PIONEERING GENETICS RESEARCHER DOUGLAS C. WALLACE TO JOIN UCI FACULTY IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE
Founder of 'Mitochondrial Eve' Research to Establish Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine Center at Irvine
Irvine, Calif., March 18, 2002 -- Douglas C. Wallace, one of the world's leading geneticists whose work ranges from tracing the origins of the human species to finding the causes of degenerative diseases, cancer and aging, has joined the UC Irvine faculty as the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences and Molecular Medicine.
At UCI, Wallace will establish the Center for Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine and Genetics. He will hold a joint appointment in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Biological Chemistry in the College of Medicine.
Wallace comes to UCI from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, where he is director of the renowned Center for Molecular Medicine.
"Doug Wallace has distinguished himself as a pioneer and a leader in this important area of genetics study," said Susan V. Bryant, dean of the School of Biological Sciences. "He significantly raises the profile of biological research at UCI, making the university more attractive for graduate students and prospective faculty."
"We are proud to include Doug Wallace as a colleague on our faculty," said Dr. Thomas C. Cesario, dean of the College of Medicine. "Molecular medicine is one of the promising frontiers in medical research today, and Wallace's center and work will greatly enhance research underway on diseases of aging and the nervous system, cancer genetics and degenerative diseases."
Wallace is UCI's fifth Donald Bren Professor. The others are noted evolutionary biologist Francisco J. Ayala; atmospheric chemist F. Sherwood Rowland, a 1995 Nobel Laureate in chemistry; Thomas J. Carew, a leading researcher in the neurobiological field of learning and memory; and Wilson Ho, whose work in the area of condensed matter physics is revolutionizing the nanoscience field.
There are also two Bren Professors in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, where they hold the additional title of Claire Trevor Professors. These are world-famous choreographer and professor of dance, Donald McKayle, and renowned professor of drama and playwright Robert Cohen. The Bren Professors Endowment was established in 1988 with a gift from Donald Bren, chairman of The Irvine Company, to help UCI attract and retain the nation's foremost scholars.
"I am honored to be a member of the august Bren Professor community and privileged to be associated with the outstanding students, faculty and administration of UCI," Wallace said.
In the early 1970s, Wallace and his colleagues founded the field of human mitochondrial genetics. Mitochondria are the power plants of cells and have their own DNA, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited only from the mother. In his research, Wallace has shown that defects in mitochondrial genes are major contributors to degenerative diseases, cancer and aging.
In some of his more noteworthy findings, Wallace and his colleagues have shown that mtDNA mutations can cause certain forms of diabetes mellitus, cardiac and muscle disease, blindness, deafness, seizures, movement disorders and dementias. They have shown that mtDNA mutations accumulate in our tissue with age, and thus may be the aging clock. Moreover, the levels of these age-related mtDNA mutations are higher in brains of those with Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease, suggesting that mtDNA mutations may be a common feature of degenerative diseases.
In studying mitochondrial genetic evolution, Wallace's research group has used mtDNA variation to reconstruct the origins and ancient migrations of women. His group has found that there is a single mtDNA tree that arose in southern Africa some 200,000 years ago, with descendents migrating out of Africa evolving into specific mtDNA lineages in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The realization that all mtDNA lineages trace back to a single African origin has been popularly called the "mitrochondrial Eve" theory. Wallace's work on using DNA variation to reconstruct ancient human history has been a foundation of the new field of molecular anthropology and is hailed as a significant achievement in paleoanthropology.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Wallace received his Ph.D. in microbiology and human genetics from Yale University and has served on the faculties of Stanford University and Emory, where he has been the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Molecular Genetics and director of the Center for Molecular Medicine since 1990. He is an author of more than 230 research papers, many of which have appeared in leading journals such as Cell, Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Highly honored for his research, Wallace received the William Allan Award in 1994, the American Society of Human Genetics' highest recognition for contributions to human genetics. He also has shared the Passano Award 2000 for mitrochondrial genetics and received the 2000 Metropolitan Life Foundation Research Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, he has earned the Most Animated Instructor and Most Valuable Professor awards from graduating classes of the Emory University School of Medicine.