AUSTIN, Texas — Chemist Jonathan L. Sessler and anthropologist Anthony Di Fiore of The University of Texas at Austin have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. The academy is the country’s most prestigious scientific organization, and election to it is one of the highest honors for American researchers.
The two are among 120 new national inductees announced this week in recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original scientific research.
“Induction of our two faculty members in the National Academy of Sciences is a reflection of high-caliber research and innovation produced at UT Austin. The scientific accomplishments of Anthony Di Fiore and Jonathan Sessler in their respective fields of anthropology and chemistry exemplify the type of impact we aim to have at the university,” said Dan Jaffe, interim executive vice president and provost.
Di Fiore, department chair and professor of anthropology, holds the Dallas TACA Centennial Fellowship in the Liberal Arts. As a primate evolutionary biologist and geneticist, he conducts field research focusing on New World primates to understand the ways in which behavior and social systems are shaped by environmental pressures. This is a crucial and central focus in evolutionary anthropology. A major portion of his field research takes place in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve in Amazonian Ecuador, a site of global diversity and conservation significance.
In his Primate Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab, he complements his field studies and addresses issues that are typically difficult to explore through observational studies alone. Through the use molecular genetic and genomic techniques, he investigates broader questions concerning the evolutionary history, social systems and ecological roles of various New World primates.
Sessler holds the R. P. Doherty, Jr. – Welch Regents Chair in Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences. Specializing in the engineering of molecules, Sessler — a two-time cancer survivor — developed a class of experimental drugs that target cancerous tumors, helping to earn him previous election to the National Academy of Inventors.
The texaphyrins molecules he developed led to the creation of a pharmaceutical research company, Pharmacyclics Inc., which was later sold for $21 billion due to its success in cancer drug development. Sessler is the inventor of dozens of U.S.-issued patents on technologies relevant to drug development and medicine and has co-authored about 700 research publications and two books. Since joining the Department of Chemistry faculty in 1984, Sessler has received research grants from the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation and others. Sessler is the 17th current faculty member from UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences elected to the academy.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership and — with the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Medicine and National Research Council — provides science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.