Professor Palmer studies evolution at the gene level. He has discovered and characterized the first cases of the evolutionary transfer of gene function from the mitochondrion or chloroplast to the nucleus within modern eukaryotic evolution. His work has provided fundamental support for the introns-late theory for the origin and evolution of nuclear introns. Much of our understanding of the structure and evolution of chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes in plants derives from his studies. Finally, he has pioneered the application of DNA-level variation to the elucidation of evolutionary relationships among plants.
Professor Palmer received a B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1977 (Biology) and a Ph.D. from Stanford in 1981 (Biology). He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1981-1983 and at Duke University from 1983-1984. He was the Arthur F. Thurnau Assistant and Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Michigan from 1984-1989. He joined IU in 1989 and became a Distinguished Professor and Chair of Biology in 1996.
Professor Palmer received a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the NSF from 1985-1990 and a Special Creativity Grant Extension from the NSF from 1991-1993. He was awarded the David Starr Jordan Prize in 1991 and the Wilhelmine E. Key Award from the American Genetics Association in 1998. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2000.
Professor Palmer retired in June 2019 with the titles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology, and Class of 55 Endowed Professor Emeritus. Palmer received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.