Michael Turelli

University of California, Davis

Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 26, Genetics
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2021)


Turelli is a population biologist who has worked on problems ranging from theoretical ecology to quantitative genetics, the origin of species, and the dynamics and evolution of the pervasive intracellular endosymbiont Wolbachia. He and his first postdoc Ary Hoffmann initiated the study of Wolbachia in Drosophila. Their findings contributed to the development of Wolbachia-based methods to control human diseases. Turelli was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Southern California. He obtained a Mathematics degree in 1972 from the University of California, Riverside. There Tim Prout introduced him to population biology and genetics. Mentored by Joe Felsenstein in the Genetics Department at the University of Washington, he earned his Ph.D. in Biomathematics in 1977. Just before graduating, he became Assistant Professor of Genetics at the University of California, Davis, where he is currently Distinguished Professor of Genetics. He was a founding member and subsequently chair of the Department of Evolution and Ecology. He established the Population Biology Ph.D. program. He was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow at University College London, a Miller Research Professor at UC Berkeley, Vice President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Turelli began his research career as a theoretical ecologist, trying to understand how environmental variation affects the coexistence of competing species. As an evolutionary geneticist, he worked first on the maintenance of genetic variation for continuously varying traits under selection and mutation. With his long-term collaborator Nick Barton, he has investigated the dynamics of polygenic traits and processes that can maintain genetic variation. His field work on natural Drosophila populations with Jerry Coyne led to decades of collaboration with Ary Hoffmann and his lab on Wolbachia population biology in various Drosophila species. Hoffmann and Turelli were part of the team that first stably transformed mosquito populations with introduced Wolbachia to suppress the spread of dengue and other human diseases. With Allen Orr, Turelli has investigated patterns and processes associated with the evolution of hybrid inviability and sterility between diverging species. His lab has worked on various problems associated with speciation and environmental niche evolution. His current theoretical and empirical research focuses on understanding the pervasiveness of Wolbachia infections among insect species, analyzing the evolution and persistence of Wolbachia manipulations of host reproduction, and testing predictions concerning patterns of coevolution between Wolbachia and their hosts.

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