University of Rochester

Biologist H. Allen Orr Named Shirley Cox Kearns Professor

March 26, 2007

H. Allen Orr, professor of biology at the University of Rochester, has been named the Shirley Cox Kearns Professor.

Orr, an evolutionary geneticist, focuses primarily on the genetic changes that allow species to adapt to new challenges in their environment and that drive new species to form.

"The evolutionary process can be summed up as descent with modification, and that process has two major consequences: changes within lineages over time, and the splitting of lineages that result in new species," says John Jaenike, chair of the Department of Biology. "Allen is one of the few evolutionary biologists ever to have made fundamental contributions in both of these areas."

In particular, Orr is interested in determining how genes cause reproductive isolation between species, and what the normal functions of these genes are and what evolutionary forces drove their divergence. He studies these problems through genetic analysis of reproductive isolation between closely related species of fruit fly.

In his adaptation work, Orr investigates theoretical rules or patterns that might characterize the population genetics of adaptation—studying them through both theory and experiment.

Orr has received several fellowships, including a Guggenheim, a Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science and Engineering, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Postdoctoral. He is also the winner of the Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. In 2002, he was named the University of Rochester's Professor of the Year in Natural Sciences.

Orr recently published the book Speciation (Sinauer Associates, Inc., May 2004), a scholarly review and critique of research on the origin of species. He is also a frequent contributor of book reviews and critical essays to such publications as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.

Announced in 2000, the professorship honors Shirley Kearns, the wife of David Kearns '52, a former chairman of the University's Board of Trustees and current senior trustee.