MacArthur Fellows Program

Richard E. Lenski

Biologist | Class of 1996

East Lansing, Michigan
40 at time of award
Published July 1, 1996

About Richard's Work

Richard Lenski, a biologist, is a leader in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbial ecology, whose work contributes to our understanding of how microbes evolve and coevolve.

Lenski’s research has placed phenomena that are usually studied from a purely genetic standpoint, such as antibiotic and viral resistance, into an evolutionary context.  He has asked important questions about the evolutionary dynamics of such phenomena and has investigated these issues experimentally.  His work has had significant relevance in comprehending the impact and emergence of new diseases.  An authority on bacterial evolution and population biology, Lenski has made contributions not only through his own research, but through his expert commentary on socially significant issues, such as the release of genetically engineered organisms.


Lenski has been the John Hannah Professor of Microbial Ecology in the Departments of Microbiology, Zoology, and Crop and Soil Sciences at Michigan State University since 1991.  He taught previously at the University of California, Irvine (1985-1991).  He is the author of numerous articles published in such journals as Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Lenski received a B.A. (1976) from Oberlin College and a Ph.D. (1982) from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Recent News

Richard Lenski continues to serve as the John Hannah Professor of Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University. His ongoing, long-term evolution experiment with E. coli bacteria has now surpassed 60,000 generations, and it has provided insights into the process of adaptation by natural selection, the dynamics of genome evolution, and the origin of new functions. He also collaborates with computer scientists on experiments using digital organisms—computer programs that replicate, mutate, compete, and evolve. Lenski was elected a Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. In 2010, he and his colleagues founded the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, with the mission of illuminating and harnessing the power of evolution in action to advance science and technology and benefit society.

Updated July 2015

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