David Hillis is a molecular biologist who has developed new molecular genetic analyses that contribute to our understanding of the history of life on earth.
He has shown that the relationships among species can be inferred from small differences in their DNA sequences, revealing both the order and timing of evolutionary processes. These results provide an invaluable foundation for future ecological and environmental policy. Over the past ten years, Hillis has developed the statistical techniques necessary to create and test parsimony (likelihood) trees of speciation based on DNA sequence data. Using a controlled population of laboratory viruses, he has been able to test empirically the relationship between observed evolutionary processes and those inferred from molecular data derived from the same source. In his influential text, Molecular Systematics, Hillis argues that molecular techniques supplement, but do not supplant, more traditional methodologies based on analysis of observations such as morphology, development, or behavior.
Hillis is the Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor in the Natural Sciences at the University of Texas, Austin, where he has taught since 1987. He has published numerous articles in such publications as Science, Genetics, and Nature.
Hillis received a B.S. (1980) from Baylor University and an M.A. (1983), an M.Ph. (1984), and a Ph.D. (1985) from the University of Kansas.