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Election Year: 1999
Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 25, Plant Biology
Membership Type: Member
Barbara Schaal is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the department of biology at Washington University. Dr. Schaal is a plant evolutionary biologist recognized for her work on the genetics of plant species. She is known particularly for her studies that use DNA sequences to understand evolutionary processes such as gene flow, geographical differentiation, and the domestication of crop species.
Dr. Schaal was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1947 and became a U.S. citizen in 1956. She grew up in Chicago, graduated from the University of Illinois, Chicago, with a degree in biology, and received a doctorate from Yale University in 1974. She was on the faculty of the University of Houston and the Ohio State University before joining Washington University in 1980, where she has served as chair of the biology department. She has been president of the Botanical Society of America and president of the Society for the Study of Evolution.
Using a variety of molecular markers in several plant species, my laboratory group and I study fundamental evolutionary process such as gene migration, molecular evolution, and natural selection. Examples include an analysis of selection at the molecular level on plant disease resistance genes both in wild relatives of the tomato and in the model plant, Arabidopsis. Recently our work has also focused on some applied issues. We have identified the wild progenitor of the tropical crop, cassava, and identified the probable geographical location of domestication in the Amazon region of Brazil, and we have examined the evolutionary origins of invasive plants that encroach on wetlands of the western United States. We are also interested in theoretical issues bearing on conservation of rare plants, such as work on population genetic effects of habitat destruction and fragmentation that seeks to provide guidance for conservation and restoration efforts.