Profile: Eric Olson, Ph.D. (NAM, NAS)

Selda Gunsel Profile

Dr. Eric Olson is a man of many talents. The professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center is equal parts award-winning molecular biologist, rock band front man and family man mountaineer. 

Despite his love of hikes in the Colorado Rockies, Dr. Olson credits Texas’ rich history of pioneers, entrepreneurs and visionaries for keeping his research grounded in the state of Texas. From stem cells, muscle development and transcriptional regulation, Dr. Olson has dedicated his career to deciphering the mechanism that controls development of the heart, cardiovascular system and skeletal muscle tissue.

We connected with Dr. Olson ahead of the TAMEST 2020 Annual Conference: Innovating Texas, where he will be a speaker, to find out more about his work and passion for innovation.

What made you get into your field of research? 

When I began my independent career in 1984 at MD Anderson, I wanted to choose an area of research that I thought could sustain me for my career and that combined fascinating biology with opportunities for eventual clinical translation.  

I decided to explore the mechanisms that control development and disease of muscles—cardiac, skeletal and smooth muscle. Over the ensuing decades, my trainees discovered many of the key genes that guide the formation, the function and the dysfunction of muscles.  

I am most excited about discovering new things rather than working on known things. The field of muscle biology provided fertile ground for discovery.

Regarding your work, what are you most proud of?

Scientifically, I am most proud of the molecular blueprint my lab has delineated for the formation of muscles, the largest tissue in the human body, which is required for every facet of life.  

Beyond our scientific discoveries, I am especially proud of the many generations of trainees who entrusted me with guiding their careers and who have gone on to great success.

Why are you participating in the TAMEST 2020 conference?  

TAMEST is unique in the way it brings together scientists from diverse disciplines with the shared goal of elevating science in Texas.

Why is Texas innovative in your opinion? 

Texans think big and invest in bold ideas. This is a state with a rich history of pioneers, entrepreneurs and visionaries. I believe this a direct reflection of the size of the state and the wide-open spaces away from the hubbub of the northeast.

Why do you work and live in Texas?

I love the can-do attitude of Texas.

Tell us about life outside of work.

When I’m not working, I enjoy playing music with my band The Transactivators, which was inspired by Willie Nelson, the Texas troubadour who endowed the professorship that supports some of our work.  

I also enjoy spending time with my family and hiking in the mountains around our home in Telluride, Colorado, with friends and family.


To see a full list of speakers for TAMEST’s 2020 conference—Innovating Texas: Research to Commercialization—visit our website.


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