UC Riverside Geneticist Named to Royal Society

Susan Wessler, known for her work on mobile DNAs, joins an academy whose past members include Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein

Susan Wessler is a member of the latest class to join the Royal Society.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Susan Wessler, a distinguished professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, has been named a foreign member of the Royal Society, the leading science academy of the United Kingdom, whose past membership includes Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein.

Wessler is believed to be the first UC Riverside faculty member named a member of the Royal Society.

“It is an honor to have a member of UCR’s faculty be named among the preeminent scientists in the world,” said UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox. “As a renowned geneticist and a true visionary in science education, Professor Wessler is greatly deserving of this prestigious honor.”

Of the 50 new members, 13 are female scientists, and Wessler is one of two new female foreign members. New Fellows and Members are from across the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as from Japan and the United States.

Wessler’s research involves the study of mobile DNAs—called transposons or transposable elements—that are the major drivers of plant genome evolution. Her laboratory has pioneered the use of computational and experimental analyses in the identification of actively transposing elements.

“Susan is a world leader in plant genome evolution,” said Kathryn Uhrich, Dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS). “For her to be named among such esteemed scientists marks a significant distinction not only for herself but for the college and further demonstrates the remarkable talent we have here at CNAS.”

Wessler is an advocate for encouraging enthusiasm for genomics research to undergraduate students. She is the Neil A. and Rochelle A. Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education in CNAS, and she runs a learning laboratory that provides first-year students with experimental science research experience.

Wessler received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Stony Brook University, and her doctoral degree from Cornell University. She began her career at the University of Georgia in 1983, where she remained until she joined the faculty of UC Riverside in 2010. Wessler is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. In 2011, she was elected home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and received the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2012 Excellence in Science Award. In 2013, she was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. In 2014, she was awarded the McClintock Prize for Plant Genetics and Genome Studies.

She is co-author of The Mutants of Maize (Cold Spring Harbor Press), and one of the principal authors of Introduction to Genetic Analysis, a leading textbook used in introductory genetics courses in colleges and universities throughout the world. Wessler has written more than 120 research articles.

Royal Society Fellows and foreign members are elected for life through a peer review process. There are about 1,600 fellows and foreign members, including around 80 Nobel Laureates. Each year, up to 52 fellows and up to 10 foreign members are elected from a group of about 700 candidates.

The Royal Society’s origins date to the 1660s. The leading scientific minds of the past four centuries can be found among the 8,000 fellows elected to the society to date. Current Fellows include Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Tim Berners-Lee.

“We are all thrilled and proud that Sue has been chosen to be elected to the Royal Society; it is both a rare and fantastic privilege and honor,” said Natasha Raikhel, former director of the Center for Plant Cell Biology (CEPCEB) and the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology (IIGB). “Sue is among the most influential and vital scientific voices in our country, who is not afraid to speak up on controversial issues and has already made a strong impact. I know that she will continue to do so in the future.”

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