Helen Donis-Keller, Ph.D.
An artist and scientist for her entire adult life, Helen Donis-Keller observes, investigates and interprets the natural world. She is intrigued by the opportunity to study the complexity, diversity and kinship of all organisms and to appreciate the unity of life and its processes throughout evolution.
Most broadly defined Dr. Donis-Keller’s scientific work, and to a considerable extent her art, investigates the relationship between genotype and phenotype, which is the relationship between the genetic potential carried by the DNA (genotype) and the observable self (phenotype), the product of the interaction of genes and environment. The world-view of a natural scientist permeates her work and inspires a desire to facilitate access to genetic ideas through visual art. For example, her Genotype: Phenotype Wall Piece visually melds art and science and is extended further by the Phenotype Series.
As an undergraduate she initially majored in graphic design and pursued a strong interest in photography and drawing at the University of Cincinnati. While working professionally as a graphic designer and photographer she studied chemistry, biology and natural science at Lakehead University in Canada, which eventually led to a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University. While a career scientist, she always maintained a thread of artistic practice in drawing, printmaking and photography. Fully participating in the exciting development of the biotechnology industry in the Boston area Dr. Donis-Keller held leadership positions at Biogen, Inc. and Collaborative Research, Inc., later shifting her research interests to academic science. Her research group was the first to construct a genetic linkage map of the human genome and to make use of genetic methods to identify mutant genes and develop predictive diagnostic tests for inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis and multiple endocrine neoplasia, a form of thyroid cancer. For many years her research group continued to produce fine structure genetic maps of human chromosomes including the development of markers for telomeres, the ends of chromosomes, at Washington University School of Medicine where she was Professor of Genetics and Surgery. Dr. Donis-Keller returned to the company of artists and MFA studies in studio art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts and Tufts University. Dr. Donis-Keller is currently Michael E. Moody Professor and Professor of Biology and Art at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, where she develops and teaches novel undergraduate courses, pursues biological research on viruses of bacteria and is engaged in artistic practice.