Marine Biological Laboratory president, director to receive genetics education award

Huntington F. Willard, president and director of the Marine Biological Laboratory and professor of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, is one of three recipients of the 2015 Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education by the American Society of Human Genetics.


The award recognizes an individual or group for contributions of exceptional quality and importance to human genetics education internationally. Awardees have had long-standing involvement in genetics education, producing diverse contributions of substantive influence on individuals and/or organizations.

Co-recipients of the award are Robert L. Nussbaum, chief medical officer of Invitae and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco; and Roderick R. McInnes, director of the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital and Alva Chair in Human Genetics at McGill University.

The award committee noted that each of this year’s recipients is an accomplished geneticist and educator.

Willard’s research has long focused on the structure and function of chromosomes and genomes, work that led to his being elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Since the early 1980s, in addition to his research, he has developed and directed educational programs at the medical, graduate and undergraduate levels in human genetics, genomics and computational biology at universities in Canada and the United States. He also developed educational programs and a four-year undergraduate curriculum as a professor at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in order to engage students in research and increase the numbers of students entering graduate programs.

Prior to his appointment at MBL, Willard’s leadership roles and honors for educational initiatives at Duke University included directing the Undergraduate Program in Genome Sciences and Policy (2008-2014), being on the Arts & Sciences Faculty Dean’s List (2009, 2010 and 2011) and directing the Graduate Program in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (2005-2008). Previously, at Case Western Reserve University, Willard directed the Graduate Program in Genetics (1992-2001) and in 2001 received the university’s Outstanding Faculty Award for Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Training Programs.

Since 2001, Willard, Nussbaum and McInnes have collaboratively authored the sixth, seventh and eighth editions of the human genetics textbook Genetics in Medicine. Willard and McInnes, along with original author Margaret W. Thompson, were also co-authors of the textbook’s fifth edition, which was published in 1991. In addition to co-authoring Genetics in Medicine, Willard has co-edited several editions of the reference textbook Genomic and Personalized Medicine.

Willard was a member of the American Society of Human Genetics board of directors from 1994-1996 and again from 2000-2003 and was the society’s president in 2001. For his contributions to the field of human genetics, he received the society's William Allan Award in 2009.