Steven Austad headshot.

Distinguished Professor; Department Chair This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Campbell Hall 464
(205) 934-8308

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

Office Hours: By appointment

Education:

  • B.A., UCLA, English Literature
  • B.S., California State University, Northridge, Biology
  • Ph.D., 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 Ph.D. 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.

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Research Interests

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? Moreover, 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. Finally, it has been discovered in recent years that the sexes often respond very differently to treatments than extend life and health. Something that dramatically slows aging in one sex may have no effect on the other sex. We have recently begun exploring why this is so.

Recent Courses

  • BY 429/629/491: Introduction to Evolution
  • BY 436/636/736: Biological Processes in Aging

Trainees

Current Lab Personnel

  • Jared Miller (graduate student)
  • Katelynn Corder (postdoctoral fellow)
  • Jessica Hoffman (postdoctoral fellow)
  • Ashley Turner (postdoctoral fellow)

Select Publications

  • Austad SN. (2019). Sex differences in health and aging: a dialogue between brain and gonad? Geroscience June 26. doi: 10.1007/s11357-019-00081-3. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Brown CJ, Mtui D, Oswald BP, van Leuven JT, Vallenderd EJ, Schultz-Darken N, Ross CN, Tardif SD, Austad SN, Forney LJ. (2019). Comparative genomics of Bifidobacterium species isolated from marmosets and humans. American Journal of Primatology. May 6:e983. doi: 10.1002/dneu.22676 [epub ahead of print]
  • Tomczyk S, Buzgariu W, Perruchoud C, Fisher K, Austad S, Galliot B. (2019). Loss of neurogenesis in aging Hydra. Developmental Neurobiology. 2019 Mar 26. doi: 10.1002/dneu.22676. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Austad SN, Hoffman JM (2019). Response to genes that improved fitness also cost modern humans: evidence for genes with antagonistic effects on longevity and disease. Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health. 23, 7-8. doi: 10.1093/emph/eoz003.
  • Austad SN, Hoffman JM. (2018). Is antagonistic pleiotropy ubiquitous in aging biology? Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health. Oct 11; 2018(1), 287-294 doi: 10.1093/emph/eoy033. (George C. Williams prize-winning publication)
  • Beltrán-Sánchez H, Austad SN, Finch CE. (2018). Comment on “The plateau of human mortality: demography of longevity pioneers.” Science Sept. 28:361(6409). pii: eaav1200. doi: 10.1126/science.aav1200.
  • Barzilai N, Cuervo AM, Austad SN. (2018). Viewpoint: Aging as a biological target for prevention and therapy. Journal of the American Medical Association. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.9562. Oct 2;320(13):1321-1322.
  • Austad SN. 2018. The comparative biology of mitochondrial function and the rate of aging. Integrative and Comparative Biology. Jun 22. doi: 10.1093/icb/icy068. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Hoffman JM, O’Neill DG, Creevy KE, Austad SN. 2018. Do female dogs age differently than male dogs? Journals of Gerontology: Biological Science and Medical Sciences 73(2), 150-156. DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glx061. PMC5861885.
  • Ross CN, Austad S, Brasky K, Brown CJ, Forney LJ, Gelfond JA, Lanford R, Richardson A, Tardif SD. 2017. The development of a specific pathogen free (SPF) barrier colony of marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) for aging research. Aging (Albany, NY) 9(12), 2544-2558. DOI: 10.18632/aging. 101340. PMC5764392.
  • Austad SN (2017). Sex differences in health and longevity. In Hazzard’s Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, 7th Edition. J Halter, J Ouslander, S Studenski, K High, S Asthana, C Ritchie, and M Supiano (Eds.) McGraw-Hill: New York. Chapter 8 (pp 133-147). ISBN-13: 978-0-07-183345-5.
  • Schenkelaars Q, Tomczyk S, Wenger Y, Edundayo K, Girard V, Buzgariu W, Austad S, Galliot B. (2017). Hydra, a model system for deciphering the mechanisms of aging and resistance to aging. Handbook of Models for Human Aging, 2nd Ed., PM Conn (ed.). Academic Press: Cambridge, MA.
  • Fischer KE, Hoffman JM, Sloane LB, Gelfond JAL, Soto VY, Richardson AG, Austad SN. (2016). A cross-sectional study of male and female C57BL/6Nia mice suggests lifespan and healthspan are not necessarily correlated. Aging. 8(10):2370-2391. doi: 10.18632/aging.101059. PMC5115894.
  • Huffman DM Justice JN, Stout MB, Kirkland JL, Barzilai N, Austad SN. (2016) Evaluating Health Span in Preclinical Models of Aging and Disease: Guidelines, Challenges, and Opportunities for Geroscience. Journals of Gerontology A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 71(11),1395-1406. doi:10.1093/gerona/glw106. PMC5055649.

Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies

  • Director, UAB Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging
  • Scientific Director, American Federation for Aging Research, New York
  • External Advisory Committee, Mayo Clinic Kogod Center on Aging, Rochester, MN
  • 2018 George C. Williams Prize with Jessica M. Hoffman. International Society for Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health.
  • 2018 Outstanding Teacher Award. UAB University Honors Program.
  • 2016 Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • 2015 Fondation IPSEN Longevity Prize. Boulogne-Billancourt, France
  • 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