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Hardison named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

23 April 2024
Ross Hardison

Ross Hardison, Academy Professor and professor emeritus of biochemistry and molecular biology, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed by peers upon members of the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society, for their extraordinary achievements in advancing science. Hardison was honored for contributions to the field of molecular biology, particularly for developing genomic, epigenomic and bioinformatic approaches to identify gene regulatory elements and study mechanisms controlling gene expression.

“Ross has been a trailblazer in the field of genomics,” said Santhosh Girirajan, T. Ming Chu Professor and interim department head of biochemistry and molecular biology. “He has paved the way for research in gene regulation through comparative and experimental genomics approaches. I am super thrilled to learn that Ross has received this well-deserved recognition.”

Hardison is a molecular biologist whose research focuses on deciphering the molecular mechanisms and evolution of gene regulation in mammals. Building on his early work in isolating and sequencing mammalian genes, he worked closely with Webb Miller, professor emeritus of biology and computer science, to rigorously align genomic DNA sequences between species and to use those alignments to illuminate genome evolution and predict regions of the genome involved in gene regulation. Hardison and Miller pioneered a collaboration between molecular biologists and computational scientists to define important bioinformatic problems, develop algorithms that give informative solutions, and experimentally test hypotheses derived from the bioinformatic analysis to infer the biological meaning. The whole-genome interspecies alignments of genomic DNA developed through this collaboration are still the backbone for many comparative genomics studies.

For the past two decades, Hardison’s research has expanded to explore biochemical modifications to DNA and other molecules that interact with DNA — a field known as epigenomics — that influence how mouse and human blood cells differentiate. His lab employs high-throughput, sequencing-based assays to construct widely used maps of the epigenomic and transcriptomic landscapes and regulatory elements across the genomes of mammalian blood cells.  He was a member of the ENCODE Project Consortium — a large public research project which aims to build a comprehensive parts list of functional elements in the human genome — from its inception. He led a collaborative project to develop and test integrative models that provide ValIdated Systematic IntegratiON (VISION project) of the regulatory landscape, chromatin architecture, and transcriptomes of human and mouse blood cells. These integrative models, supported by extensive experimental tests, open the door for a new phase of molecular genetics that captures mechanistic insights and translates them to applications in medicine and other fields.

“I am most gratified to receive this recognition of the contributions from my collaborators, co-workers, and myself,” Hardison said. “It is humbling to be included among the ranks of such distinguished scientists.”

While at Penn State, Hardison has led in the foundation and growth of multiple research centers, including the Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation, the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and the Genome Sciences Institute of the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences. In 2024, Hardison was inducted into the Emeritus Academy at Penn State, which is dedicated to fostering a vibrant community of retired faculty who continue contributing to the University's mission through mentoring, teaching, and research.

Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State in 1980, Hardison was a postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology from 1977 to 1980. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Vanderbilt University in 1973 and a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the University of Iowa in 1977.

Fellows were elected in 2023 and will be honored in 2024. They will receive an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin to commemorate their election and will be invited to an in-person gathering in Washington, D.C., in September to celebrate the honor. The new class is also featured in the AAAS “News & Notes” section of Science magazine this month. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more.