Distinguished Professor; Department Chair
Campbell Hall 464
(205) 934-8308

Research and Teaching Interests: Biology of Aging, Evolution, Ecology of Infectious Diseases, Scientific Communication

Steven Austad. Office Hours: By appointment

  • BA, UCLA, English Literature
  • BS, California State University, Northridge, Biology
  • PhD, Purdue University, Biological Sciences

I am originally from Southern California, but my family moved a lot, so I lived in every part of the United States before heading to college. After gaining an English Literature degree, I had a variety of jobs — newspaper reporter, taxi driver, wild animal trainer.... Training lions for the movie business awakened my interest in biology, so I went back to school, eventually getting my PhD in biology.

My early research was field-based. I have done field research in several parts of the United States, Venezuela, East Africa, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea. Once I became interested in the biology of aging, my research became more laboratory oriented. Perhaps because of my background in English, I have always been eager to communicate the excitement of science to the public at large. In that capacity I have written popular books, planned museum exhibits, and produced a regular newspaper column on science.

CV:Download PDF

One of the more intriguing problems in biology is why animals age. No law of nature dictates that this should be so. Why can’t nature, which is so successful at producing healthy adults from single fertilized eggs, do the seemingly much simpler task of keeping that adult healthy through time? Morever, why do some animals like mice age quickly, while others like bats, birds, whales, and people age slowly. It is these question that focus and guide my research.

Aging is not just an abstract and intriguing biological problem. It is the number one cause of death and disability in today’s world, vastly more significant than Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or heart disease, because aging is the major risk for all of them plus a host of other health problems.

The long-term goal of my research is to develop treatments to slow the aging process, thus keeping people fit and healthy longer. My laboratory works with different animal species, especially those which are more successful at aging than humans. We work on exotic species, like clams that live more than 500 years, and hydra that don’t age at all, in order to discover such treatments. We also develop measures of laboratory animal health, so that we can assess whether a treatment that makes a mouse live longer also improves the quality of its life.
Fischer et al., "Health Effects of Long-term Rapamycin Treatment," submitted for publication to PLOS ONE, 2015
Book Chapters:
  • Finch CE & Austad SN, "Primate models for human brain aging and neurological diseases," in Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics – Genetics vol. 34, R. L. Sprott, ed. (New York, 2014), 139-70.
  • Chalfin L, Dayan M, Levy DR, Austad SN, Miller RA, Iraqi FA, Dulac C, Kimchi T, "Mapping ecologically relevant social behaviours by gene knockout in wild mice," Nature Communications 5 (August 2014): 4569. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5569.
  • Ratnam S, Engler P, Bozek G, Mao L, Podlutsky A, Austad S, Martin T, Storb U, "Identification of Ssm1b, a novel modifier of DNA methylation, and its expression during mouse embryogenesis," Development 141 (2014): 2024-34.
  • Elbourkadi N, Austad SN, Miller RA. (2014). Fibroblasts from long-lived species of mammals and birds show delayed, but prolonged, phosphorylation of ERK. Aging Cell 13(2), 283-91.
  • Zhang, Y, Bokov A, Gelfond J, Soto V, Ikeno Y, Hubbard G, Diaz V, Sloane L, Maslin K, Treaster S, Rendon S, VanRemmen H, Ward W, Javors M, Richardson A, Austad SN, Fischer KE, "Rapamycin extends life and health in C57BL/6 mice," Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences 69 (No. 2, 2014): 119-30.
  • Treaster SB, Ridgway ID, Richardson CA, Chaudhuri AR, Austad SN, "Superior proteome stability in the world’s longest-lived animal," Age (Nov. 20, 2013): epub ahead of print.
  • Shi Y, Pulliam DA, Liu Y, Hamilton RT, Jernigan AL, Bhattacharya A, Sloane LB, Qi W, Chaudhuri A, Buffenstein R, Ungvari ZI, Austad SN, Van Remmen H, "Reduced mitochondrial ROS, enhanced antioxidant defense, and distinct age-related changes in oxidative damage in muscles of Peromyscus leucopus," American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comp Physiology 304 (No. 5, 2013): R343-55.
  • Gimenez LED, Ghildyal P, Fischer KE, Hu H, Ja WW, Eaton BA, Wu Y, Austad SN, Ranjan R., "Modulation of methuselah expression targeted to Drosophila insulin-producing cells extends life and enhances oxidative stress resistance," Aging Cell 12 (No. 1, 2013): 121-29.
  • Scientific Director, American Federation for Aging Research, New York
  • Member, External Scientific Advisory Committee, Duke Lemur Center, NC
  • External Advisory Committee, Mayo Clinic Kogod Center on Aging, Rochester, MN
  • 2011 Irving S. Wright Award of Distinction, American Federation for Aging Research, New York
  • 2008 Outstanding Alumnus Award, Purdue University, Dept. of Biological Sciences, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • 2003 The Robert W. Kleemeier Award for Outstanding Research, Gerontological Society of America