Andrew D. Ellington

Born: May 6, 1959 | Independence, MO, US

Andrew D. Ellington credits his love of science and research to many influential high school teachers, many of whom he still speaks with. He attended Michigan State University for biochemistry, where he worked tirelessly in the lab, often sleeping in classrooms or computer labs. In Steven Benner’s lab at Harvard he developed his Palimpsest Theory for Evolution based on his observations of RNA. Ellington accepted a postdoc at Harvard Medical School, studying Type 1 self-splicing introns and performed research on in vitro selection in Jack Szostak’s lab. His current research focuses on aptazymes—allosteric ribosomes that can be engineered to recognize almost any molecule. Ellington hopes to show that these can be used to recognize and subdue the HIV virus population of infected individuals.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0450
No. of pages: 121
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
6-7 and 9 March 2000
University of Texas, Austin

Abstract of Interview

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. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 Michigan State University BS Biochemistry
1988 Harvard University PhD Molecular biology

Professional Experience

Harvard Medical School

1988 to 1991
Research Fellowship, Department of Genetics

Massachusetts General Hospital

1988 to 1991
Research Fellowship, Department of Genetics

Indiana University Bloomington

1992 to 1998
Research Fellowship, Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology
1992 to 1998
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Texas at Austin

1998 to 2001
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981 to 1984

National Science Foundation Fellow

1993

Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award

1994

American Foundation for AIDS Research Scholar Award

1994

National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award

1994 to 1998

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Growing Up
1

Parents. Father's polio. School. Influential teachers. Interest in the sciences. High school. Choosing law or science. Friends. Student Council Presidency. Religion and science. Applying to college.

Undergraduate Education
19

Michigan State University. Honors Program. Fencing. Judaism. Sleeping in the lab. Applying to graduate schools.

Graduate School Education
25

Harvard University. Rotations. Stephen C. Harrison's lab. Steven A. Benner's lab. Palimpsest Theory for evolution. Research in Switzerland.

Postdoctoral Years
29

Massachusetts General Hospital. Jack W. Szostak's lab. Group 1 self-splicing introns. In vitro selection. Finding a job.

Faculty Life
31

Indiana University, Bloomington. Meets wife. Tenure. Switch to University of Texas, Austin. Impact of moving.

Biomedical Science
39

Scientific responsibility. Military funding. Competition. Getting Scooped. Patents. Technology. Current research climate in U. S. Funding.

Principal Investigator
51

Working with the US military. Evolutionary biology. Engineering and biology. Lab set-up. Students. Women and minorities. Teaching. Publication. Lab management. Administrative duties. Travel. Balancing personal and professional life. Late-night lab visits. Working weekends. Contemporary students. Faults in academic system. Receiving the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant. Corporate funding. Collaboration. Aptazymes.

Research and Scientific Practice
90

Evolutionary engineering. Biosensors. RNA engineering. Aptamers. Inhibiting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Protein engineering. Organismal engineering. Military applications. Career goals. Politics. Art. Writing fiction. Future of science.

Index
116

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen