Joan E. Strassmann is a evolutionary biologist who is interested in how cooperation prospers in the face of conflict. She received her B.S. from The University of Michigan in 1974, and her Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1979. She was on the faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas from 1980 to 2011, where she was the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and department chair from 2004 – 2009. In 2011 she joined the Biology department at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work focuses on cooperative alliances that have occurred at several important steps in the evolution of life, which have proven evolutionarily and ecologically successful. In collaboration with David C. Queller, she measured genetic relatedness within colonies of many wasp species, and showed that kin selection theory predicts the existence and outcome of within-family conflicts of interest. They pioneered the use of DNA microsatellites for relatedness estimation. In 1998 they began to work on Dictyostelium discoideum, a species of social amoebae where the evolution of social interactions can be explored at physiological, genetic, and genomic levels. In a series of papers they showed the power of social evolution theory in explaining multicellular organization, from developmental pathways to cell adhesion, and with collaborators have identified over a hundred cheater genes. Dictyostelium discoideum is a new model for social evolution. She has a new book coming out October 2022, Slow Birding: the Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard, published by Penguin Random House.
Honor, Awards, Elected Positions
National Academy of Sciences, elected member, 2013
Scientia, (an institute for the history of science and culture) elected member, Rice University, 2009
Animal Behavior Society, elected president 2009.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, elected member, April 2008.
Houston Philosophical Society, elected member, April 2007.
Honorary Member, Associazione Italiana per lo Studio degli Artropodi Sociali e Presociali, 2 Feb. 2005
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2004
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow, 2004
Fellow, Animal Behavior Society, 2002
Councilor, Society for the Study of Evolution, 2002-2004
President, N. American Sect., International Union for the Study of Social Insects, 2001.
Outstanding associate, Wiess College (Rice University Residential College), 2000
Society of National Association Publications Gold Award in the “Scholarly Journals/Feature Article” category for Kin selection and social insects (1998) BioScience, 48: 165-175
Julia Mile Chance Prize for Excellence in Teaching, Rice University, May, 1997
Elected to Cambridge Entomological Society, 1984.
Elected to Sigma Xi, 1983.
Phi Kappa Phi, University of Texas at Austin, 1977.
Honors in Zoology, advisor, Richard D. Alexander, Univ. of Michigan, May 1974.
Hopwood Award (for undergraduate fiction), University of Michigan, 1973.
Department of Biology
Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1137
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899