Professor W. Ford Doolittle FRS

W. Ford Doolittle has always been an academic. He attended Harvard (BA 1963) and Stanford (PhD 1969), before taking a position at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He has always been interested in combining empirical and theoretical work, having been responsible for proving (1) that organelles were once free-living bacteria, (2) that 'jumping genes' are 'selfish DNAs', (3) that interruptions to higher organism's DNAs are recent additions (contrary to what he once thought), and (4) that lateral (between-species) gene transfer compromises any attempt to reconstruct a 'Tree of Life'. For 20 years he directed the Evolutionary Biology Programme of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, which has made Canada uniquely strong in early cell and genome evolution. Doolittle also has a BFA in photography.

For these achievements he received the 2013 Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada's top science prize, accompanied by a million-dollar unrestricted research grant, and the Killam Prize of the Canada Council, Canada's second most-coveted award. Now he pursues philosophy of biology, focusing on function and natural selection.

Professional position

  • Professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University

Subject groups

  • Biochemistry and molecular cell biology

    Biochemistry and molecular biology, Molecular microbiology

  • Microbiology, immunology and developmental biology

    Genetics (excluding population genetics)

  • Organismal biology, evolution and ecology


  • Other

    History of science

Professor W. Ford Doolittle FRS
Elected 2023