Alan R. Templeton, Ph.D., the Charles Rebstock Professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, has been awarded the Fulbright-Israel Distinguished Chair and will begin his six-month assignment Feb. 1.
There are Fulbright Distinguished Chair Programs offered in 18 countries. Templeton's is the only such chair in all of the natural sciences and engineering for Israel. Candidates need to be senior scholars with a significant publication and teaching record.
Templeton said he will spend the six months primarily in Haifa, where he will split time between the Rappaport Research Institute — a medical center that is part of the prestigious School of Medicine of the Technion, housing Israel's two recent Nobel laureates — and the University of Haifa. He will also travel around Israel, presenting seminars at various universities.
"I feel greatly honored to have won this award," Templeton said. "In Haifa, I will teach a course in population genetics that will emphasize its application to human genetic epidemiology, so it will be attended by both graduate students and faculty from the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa and the Rappaport Institute. I will also do research with two Israeli collaborators."
Templeton is a renowned population and evolutionary biologist who has analyzed the genomes of many different species to better understand their evolution and survival. He joined the WUSTL faculty in 1977 and served as head of the Evolutionary and Population Biology Program in the Division of Biological Sciences in 1984-1992 and in 1997-98.
"This is a very prestigious award to Alan," said Ralph S. Quatrano, Ph.D., the Spencer T. Olin Professor and chair of the Department of Biology. "There is no one more deserving of this level of recognition for his outstanding research and insights into complex and significant problems.
"The range of his expertise and contributions is truly remarkable. Furthermore, he is an outstanding teacher and dedicated contributor to the life of our department and University. We are all proud of Alan for being recognized with this award of the Fulbright Distinguished Chair."
Templeton's contributions to the controversy of recent human evolution include dashing the popular "Eve Theory" because of flaws he detected in researchers' 1987 computer analyses.
In 1998, he published a paper in American Anthropologist that explained humans as one race, instead of a species with subdivisions, or races. His study showed that, among people now categorized by race, everyone shares about 85 percent of humanity's store of genetic variation. The remaining 15 percent of variation is not enough difference to separate people into races.
Most recently, Templeton has provided a new, more robust analysis of recently derived human gene trees that shows three distinct major waves of human migration out of Africa instead of just two, and statistically refutes — strongly — the "Out of Africa" replacement theory.
That theory holds that populations of Homo sapiens left Africa 100,000 years ago and wiped out existing populations of humans. Templeton has shown that the African populations interbred with the Eurasian populations.
In Israel, Templeton will continue his ongoing collaboration with Leon Blaustein, Ph.D., at the University of Haifa on the conservation genetics of the endangered fire salamander, Salamandra salamandra infraimmaculata. According to Templeton, amphibians are declining worldwide, and the situation is even more acute in Israel.
Of the seven amphibian species present in Israel at the time of the founding of the state, one is extinct and four of the six remaining are listed as endangered, presumably due to reductions in habitat and habitat quality. One of these endangered amphibians is the fire salamander.
Templeton will also collaborate with Karl Skorecki, M.D., director of the Rappaport Research Institute on Metabolic Syndrome (MS), a cluster of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that include obesity, atherogenic dyslipidemia, elevated blood pressure and insulin resistance. MS is a complex trait that is influenced by both environmental and multiple hereditary factors.
Recently, a large family study suggested a causal relation between a novel mutation identified for a particular transfer RNA encoded in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and MS. MtDNA is maternally inherited in humans, so this mutation was associated with a clustering of individuals suffering from MS along a specific maternal lineage.
Templeton will collaborate with Skorecki on an investigation of the relationship between mtDNA mutations and MS in the Druze, a closed tribal society with a closed mating system and extremely large pedigrees.
This analysis will be greatly facilitated by the large kindred sizes, the distribution of mtDNA lineages among different paternally defined clans, the mating patterns and family structures of the Druze communities of northern Israel, and the strong interest of the Druze population itself to participate in such a research project, Templeton said.