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Fellows Directory

W. Ford Doolittle

W. Ford Doolittle

Professor W. Ford Doolittle FRS


Elected: 2023


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 positions

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

Interest and expertise

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
    • Evolution
  • Other
    • History of science


Microbial molecular biology and genomics, Archaea, introns, transposable elements, lateral gene transfer, natural selection, “function”.

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