Joseph Thornton (biologist)

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Joseph Thornton
Born Chicago, IL
Citizenship United States
Fields Evolutionary biology
Institutions University of Oregon , University of Chicago
Alma mater Yale University, Columbia University
Known for his work on molecular evolution
Notable awards U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2007), Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist Award (2009), National Science Foundation (2006)

Joseph (Joe) Thornton is an American evolutionary biologist. He is a Professor at the University of Chicago and a former Early Career Scientist of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is known for resurrecting ancestral genes and tracing the mechanisms by which proteins evolve new functions.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

His work has been discussed in arguments concerning intelligent design and "irreducible complexity."[8][9][10][11][12][13][14] It has also been featured in popular discussions of the contingency of evolution.[15][16][17]

Thornton has received the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at the White House, as well as a Career Award from the National Science Foundation and an Early Career Scientist Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

His background and career were profiled in an article in the journal Nature, which focused on his unusual path into science, including undergraduate study as an English major and several years as an environmental activist working for Greenpeace. [18]


  1. ^ Dean, A. M.; Thornton, J. W. (2007). "Mechanistic approaches to the study of evolution: The functional synthesis". Nature Reviews Genetics. 8 (9): 675. doi:10.1038/nrg2160. 
  2. ^ Finnigan, G. C.; Hanson-Smith, V.; Stevens, T. H.; Thornton, J. W. (2012). "Evolution of increased complexity in a molecular machine". Nature. 481 (7381): 360–4. PMID 22230956. doi:10.1038/nature10724. 
  3. ^ Thornton, J. W.; Carroll, S. M. (2011). "Lamprey endocrinology is not ancestral". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (2): E5. PMC 3021036Freely accessible. PMID 21209326. doi:10.1073/pnas.1014896108. 
  4. ^ Ortlund, E. A.; Bridgham, J. T.; Redinbo, M. R.; Thornton, J. W. (2007). "Crystal structure of an ancient protein: Evolution by conformational epistasis". Science. 317 (5844): 1544–1548. PMC 2519897Freely accessible. PMID 17702911. doi:10.1126/science.1142819. 
  5. ^ Thornton, J. W. (2001). "Evolution of vertebrate steroid receptors from an ancestral estrogen receptor by ligand exploitation and serial genome expansions". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 98 (10): 5671–5676. PMC 33271Freely accessible. PMID 11331759. doi:10.1073/pnas.091553298. 
  6. ^ Hawkins, M. B.; Thornton, J. W.; Crews, D.; Skipper, J. K.; Dotte, A.; Thomas, P. (2000). "Identification of a third distinct estrogen receptor and reclassification of estrogen receptors in teleosts". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 97 (20): 10751–10756. PMC 27095Freely accessible. PMID 11005855. doi:10.1073/pnas.97.20.10751. 
  7. ^ Bridgham, J. T.; Ortlund, E. A.; Thornton, J. W. (2009). "An epistatic ratchet constrains the direction of glucocorticoid receptor evolution". Nature. 461 (7263): 515–519. PMID 19779450. doi:10.1038/nature08249. 
  8. ^ Chang, Kenneth (April 7, 2006). "Study, in a First, Explains Evolution's Molecular Advance". New York Times. New York. 
  9. ^ Begley, Sharon (April 7, 2006). "Two New Discoveries Answer Big Questions in Evolution Theory". Wall Street Journal. New York. 
  10. ^ Adami, C. (2006). "EVOLUTION: Reducible Complexity". Science. 312 (5770): 61–63. PMID 16601180. doi:10.1126/science.1126559. 
  11. ^ Zimmer, Carl. "The Blind Locksmith Continued: An Update from Joe Thornton". The Loom. Discover Magazine. 
  12. ^ Zimmer, Carl. "The Blind Locksmith". The Loom. Discover Magazine. 
  13. ^ Begley, Sharon. "One less gap for god of the gaps.". Lab Notes. Newsweek. 
  14. ^ Matheson, Steven. "How to evolve a new protein in (about) 8 esy steps". Quintessence of Dust. 
  15. ^ Chang, Kenneth (August 21, 2007). "Ancient Protein Tells a Story of Changing Functions". New York Times. New York. 
  16. ^ Zimmer, Carl (September 28, 2009). "Can Evolution Run in Reverse? A Study Says It’s a One-Way Street". New York Times. New York. 
  17. ^ "No Going Back (editorial)". New York Times. New York. October 6, 2009. 
  18. ^ Pearson, Helen (March 21, 2012). "Prehistoric proteins: Raising the dead". Nature. London. 

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