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Oral history interview with Andrew D. Ellington

  • 2000-Mar-06 – 2000-Mar-07
  • 2000-Mar-09

Andrew D. Ellington was born in 1956 in Missouri; the elder of two siblings. His father was a title lawyer, and his mother was a high school mathematics and computer science teacher. From a very young age Ellington's parents, specifically his mother, pushed him very hard to succeed in academics. Ellington credits his love of science and research to many influential high school teachers whom he still speaks with on occasion. Ellington attended Michigan State University, where he earned his B.S. in biochemistry in 1981. During his undergraduate years, Ellington worked tirelessly in the lab, often sleeping in classrooms or computer labs. In 1988 he earned his PhD from Harvard University, where he pursued research in Stephen C. Harrison's lab, followed by research with Steven A. Benner whom he would later follow to Switzerland. It was in Benner's lab that he developed his Palimpsest Theory for Evolution based on his observations of RNA. Ellington accepted a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School; there he did his research at the Massachusetts General Hospital, in Jack W. Szostak's lab. He studied Type 1 self-splicing introns and performed his best-known research on in vitro selection in Szostak's lab. In 1992 Ellington was appointed associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Indiana University, Bloomington. In 1998 he was appointed associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin. His current research is varied, but focuses most interestingly on aptazymes—allosteric ribosomes that can be engineered to recognize almost any molecule. Ellington hopes to show that these aptazymes can be used to effectively recognize and subdue the HIV virus population of infected individuals. He is also working on designing defensive biosensors for the United States Military which would allow for quick recognition of pathogens or noxious substances. Throughout his oral history Ellington stressed the importance of innovation and the need to bridge the divide between technologists and scientists. He has received several grants and awards, including a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, the American Foundation for AIDS Research Scholar Award, the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which he discusses in the oral history.

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