Michael T. Clegg received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural genetics and genetics respectively at the University of California, Davis. In 1972 he joined the faculty of Brown University moving from there to the University of Georgia in 1976. In 1984, he became Professor of Genetics at the University of California, Riverside. He also served as Dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UC Riverside from 1994 to 2000 and he was the founding Director of the Genomics Institute at UC Riverside, serving from 2000 to 2004. In 2004 he assumed a position as Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and, since his retirement in 2014, is Donald Bren Professor Emeritus.
During an academic career of more than 35 years, Clegg has published approximately 160 research articles and book chapters and he has coauthored or edited nine books.
Clegg has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1981) and the Darwin Prize, Edinburgh University (1995). Clegg was elected to membership in the US National Academy of Sciences in 1990 and he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992. He was elected Foreign Secretary of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2002, reelected in 2006 and again in 2010—year he also was elected Co-Chair of the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences. He was elected Associate Fellow of the Academy of Sciences of the Developing World (TWAS) in 2006, a Corresponding Member of the National Academy of Exact Physical and Natural Sciences of Argentina in 2007 and he was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias in 2008. He has also served as President of the American Genetic Association (1987), President of the International Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution (2002) and Chair of the Section on Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2003).