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International Prize for biology

Past Recipents

Report on the Process of Selection

Dr. Noriyuki Satoh
Chair, Selection Committee on the International Prize for Biology

  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

  On behalf of the Selection Committee for the 29th International Prize for Biology, it gives me great pleasure to report on this year’s selection process.

  The Selection Committee consisted of twenty members, including myself. Four of our members were highly authoritative overseas researchers who were specially commissioned to serve on the Committee.

  The field chosen for the prize this year was the biology of evolution. The Committee distributed a total of 1,256 recommendation forms to Japanese and foreign universities, research centers, academic associations, individual researchers, and international academic organizations involved in this field of biology, and received a total of 52 recommendations in response. As some of these recommendations named the same individuals, the actual number of individuals recommended was 40, from 16 countries throughout the world.

  The Selection Committee met a total of four times and very carefully reviewed all the candidates. Ultimately, the Committee decided to recommend Dr. Joseph Felsenstein of the United States of America to the Prize Committee as the recipient of the 29th International Prize for Biology.

  Dr. Felsenstein was born in 1942 and is of American nationality. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1968, and has since led a highly productive research career in the biology of evolution at the University of Washington, where he is currently a professor.

  Phylogenetic reconstruction, or using information about populations and genes to infer their family trees, is vital to the work of evolutionary biologists as they seek to understand the systematic affinities of living things. In the 1970s, Dr. Felsenstein developed the maximum-likelihood approach for constructing population phylogenies from quantitative data such as allele frequencies, and in 1981 he presented a new algorithm for constructing gene phylogenies from DNA sequences by maximum likelihood and wrote a computational program for this purpose, which has been distributed as a software package named PHYLIP. The algorithm and the package are in wide use to this day. Dr. Felsenstein has made many other contributions to the biology of evolution, including introducing bootstrap probability for measuring the confidence limits of different branches of phylogenies, identifying a problem inherent in the parsimony method, which had been widely used in evolutionary biology, and proposing the contrasts method for quantifying correlations between characters along evolutionary trees.

  In making our selection, the major criteria used by the Selection Committee were the originality of the candidate’s research, its international significance, and its contribution to advancing progress in the selected field of biology. We found Dr. Felsenstein’s work to more than amply satisfy every one of these criteria and, on this basis, we judged him to be the most highly suited candidate to receive this year’s International Prize for Biology.

  The Committee on the International Prize for Biology accepted our recommendation of Dr. Joseph Felsenstein and has bestowed upon him the 29th International Prize for Biology.

  With this, I conclude my report on the process of selection.