PULLMAN, Wash. — The 2004 Abelson Lecture at Washington State University will be given by geneticist Huntington F. Willard, director of the Duke University Genomics Institute. Willard is noted for tracing the genetic basis of human health and disease.
His lecture “The Genome Revolution: Implications for Health and Society” is slated for 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 5 in the Samuel H. Smith Center for Undergraduate Education, Room 203, on the Pullman campus. A reception will follow.
Willard believes the genome revolution will fundamentally change how we view ourselves, how we fit in the world and what engages our divinity. He will discuss how genomics will affect not only science and the future of medicine, but also literature, poetry and dance.
Willard applies new genetic and genomic techniques that combine molecular biology insights with high-powered computing to reveal genetic secrets. His research focuses on the molecular structure and function of chromosomes–the structures that carry and organize the estimated 40,000 human genes.
His team studies mechanisms the body uses to inactivate genes on the X chromosome.
“As female embryos develop, they must inactivate most of the genes on one of the two X chromosomes inherited from their parents,” Willard said. “This inactivation is necessary for normal development, and malfunction of this process can cause genetic disorders.”
Willard’s research team has been studying this process, as well as the broader mechanisms by which chromosomes function and organize their genes.
Another major research effort in Willard’s laboratory is to develop tools for gene therapy. His group gained worldwide attention in 1997 for the construction of the world’s first artificial human chromosome.
While on campus, Willard will also deliver a seminar, “Epigenetic Silencing of the Genome: Genomic and Genetic Analysis of X Chromosome Inactivation.” The seminar will be at noon in the Smith Center, Room 202.
He serves on boards for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation and several biotechnology companies. He has served on the editorial boards of numerous scientific journals and is co-founder and executive editor of “Human Molecular Genetics.” He co-authored “Genetics in Medicine,” a widely used textbook, and authored or co-authored more than 275 scientific publications.
Previously, Willard held faculty positions at the University of Toronto, Stanford University and Case Western Reserve University. He was director of the Research Institute of University Hospitals of Cleveland, was president of the American Society of Human Genetics and is a former chair of the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Committee. Willard chaired the Mammalian Genetics study section at the National Institutes of Health and currently serves on the advisory committee on Genetics, Health and Society for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Abelson is president of the Agouron Institute, a charitable foundation. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Harvard University and a doctorate from Yale University.
The Abelson Family Lecture was created in 2000 by WSU physics alumnus John Abelson, George Beadle Professor Emeritus of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, and his wife Christine Guthrie, American Cancer Society Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. The couple created the lectureship in honor of members of his family who are also WSU alumni and among the nation’s leading scientists and engineers.
The Abelson Lecture is presented by the School of Molecular Biosciences in the College of Sciences.