UO biologist wins Senior Scholar Award in Aging

Evolutionary biologist Patrick PhillipsEUGENE, Ore. -- (Dec. 9, 2008) -- University of Oregon biology professor Patrick Phillips has been named a recipient of a Senior Scholar Award in Aging, a four year grant totaling $830,000, from the Ellison Medical Foundation.

Phillips, a member of the UO's Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was among 26 recipients from U.S. institutions by the non-profit, Bethesda, Md.,-based foundation. The organization provides philanthropy for basic research by established scientists in the biological sciences whose work contributes to understanding lifespan development processes and age-related diseases and disabilities. Phillips was recognized for his emerging work on the study of the genetic basis of variation in aging, stress and longevity within natural populations.

"Using mutation-based studies, we have made remarkable progress in identifying genes that can have a profound influence on longevity in a number of different animals," Phillips said. "A big question is whether natural variation in these genes is also responsible for explaining why particular individuals live longer than others."

Phillips studies nematodes, soil-dwelling worms that allow scientists to probe mutations in set of genes that can triple ordinary lifespan. "The remarkable thing is that these same genes are found in flies, mice and humans, and have been shown to similar effects on longevity," he said. "The basic processes in these simple systems appear to have wide applicability across the animal kingdom."

"The freedom and resources needed to generate basic genetic tools would not be possible without support from the Ellison Medical Foundation," Phillips said. "We are laying the basic genetic groundwork that will take nematode work out of the lab and into nature to understand ecological and evolutionary forces that determine genetic differences in aging among individuals."