James A. Shapiro, author of the 2011 book Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Chicago. He has a BA in English Literature from Harvard (1964) and a PhD in Genetics from Cambridge (1968).
Shapiro’s thesis, The Structure of the Galactose Operon in Escherichia coli K12, written under the supervision of William Hayes, contains the first suggestion of transposable elements in bacteria. He confirmed this hypothesis in 1968 during his postdoctoral tenure as a Jane Coffin Childs fellow in the laboratory of Francois Jacob at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The following year, as an American Cancer Society fellow in Jonathan Beckwith's laboratory at Harvard Medical School, he and his colleagues used in vivo genetic manipulations to clone and purify the lac operon of E. coli, an accomplishment that received international attention. In 1979, Prof. Shapiro formulated the first precise molecular model for transposition and replication of phage Mu and other transposons. In 1984, he published the first case study of what is now called "adaptive mutation." He found that selection stress triggers a tremendous increase in the frequency of Mu-mediated coding sequence fusions. Since 1992, he has been writing about the importance of biologically regulated natural genetic engineering as a fundamental new concept in evolution science. Together with the late Ahmed Bukhari and Sankhar Adhya, Prof. Shapiro organized the first conference on DNA insertion elements in May, 1976, at Cold Spring Harbor laboratory. He is editor of DNA Insertion Elements, Episomes and Plasmids (1977 with Bukhari and Adhya), Mobile Genetic Elements (1983), and Bacteria as Multicellular Organisms (1997 with Martin Dworkin). From 1980 until her death in 1992, Prof. Shapiro maintained a close scientific and personal friendship with Barbara McClintock, whom he credits with opening his eyes to new ways of thinking about science in general and evolution in particular.