David Hillis

Applications of the Tree of LIfe

April 15, 2013

In 1980 Hillis graduated from Baylor University with a bachelor’s. degree in biology, followed in 1983, 1984, and 1985 with master’s, doctorate and masters’ of philosophy degrees in biological science from the University of Kansas, specializing in molecular evolution and systematics. During this time Hillis developed molecular approaches for reconstructing the evolutionary history of organisms, or phylogeny, with a particular emphasis on the relationships of amphibians. He also made significant contributions to the understanding of hybridization, molecular processes of evolutionary change and statistical analysis of biological phylogenies. He continued this research as an assistant professor at the University of Miami from 1985–1987 and then moved to the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin in 1987.

Hillis received a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation that same year and was named to the Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professorship in Natural Sciences by the University of Texas in 1992.  His co-authored book Molecular Systematics was instrumental in developing the field of phylogenetic analysis, and he is a co-author of two of the leading college textbooks on biology (Life: The Science of Biology, and Principles of Life). Dr. Hillis was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999. In 2000, Hillis was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2008, he was elected a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences. He has served as president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and president of the Society of Systematic Biologists. At the University of Texas, he has served as director of the School of Biological Sciences, director of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, director of the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program of the College of Natural Sciences and as chair of the faculty council. Hillis also owns and operates the Double Helix Ranch, where he raises Texas Longhorn Cattle.