Secretariat of the International Prize for Biology, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)


International Prize for biology

The 34th (2018) International Prize for Biology is awarded to
Dr. Andrew Herbert Knoll,
(Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University, USA)

  On August 23, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology (chaired by Dr. Hiroo Imura, Vice President, the Japan Academy) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science decided to award the 34th (2018) International Prize for Biology to Dr. Andrew Herbert Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University, USA. The field of specialization for the 34th Prize is "Paleontology."

Dr. Andrew Herbert Knoll


Andrew Herbert Knoll (CV of the recipient)


April 23, 1951



Present Position:

Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University

Education and Professional Positions:
1973 PhD, Geology, Harvard University
1977–1982 Assistant Professor, Geology, Oberlin College
1982–1985 Associate Professor, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
1985–2000 Professor, Biology and Earth Sciences, Harvard University
2000 to present Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University

Achievements Recognized by the Award

 Dr. Andrew H. Knoll, who holds a chair in natural history at Harvard University, is the foremost expert in the field of paleontology today. Throughout his active career, he has made many significant, world-leading findings in the study of early life and its environment on planet Earth. He is a prolific author, having published over 400 original papers alone or with colleagues. In particular, his book Life on a Young Planet has been translated into a number of languages, including a widely read edition in Japanese. His work has thus had a major influence on our understanding of the early evolution of life on Earth.

 Dr. Knoll pioneered the approach of basing research into life in the Precambrian era—the first four billion years of Earth's history—on careful field observations. After his initial discoveries of fossil microorganisms, which are evidence of early life, in the glaciated mountains of Spitsbergen, Norway, he continued to uncover the early microfossil record in research conducted in Greenland, Siberia, China, Namibia, the American Northwest, and Australia. This work provided a clear record of the oldest eukaryotic organisms while also demonstrating the diversity of microfossils 800 million years ago. By showing that life on Earth was already diversified before the Cambrian explosion gave rise to a great variety of animals, Dr. Knoll's meticulous observations of microfossils contributed greatly to our understanding of how life evolved before the Cambrian Period, i.e., in the Proterozoic Eon, for which information is extremely scarce. His work also led to the addition of a new interval in the scale of geologic time: the Ediacaran Period, which immediately precedes the well-established periods of the Phanerozoic Eon.

 Dr. Knoll has also contributed greatly to research on the environmental history of the Proterozoic Eon, with a focus on the relationship between the evolution of life and changes in the Earth's environment. Further, he advanced our understanding of the evolutionary history of plants and animals by applying both developmental biology and physiology to studies of fossils. Specifically, he put forward the novel hypothesis that a rapid build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused in the end-Permian mass extinction, and, guided by physiological experiments, he predicted the pattern of selectivity in extinctions during the Permian and Triassic periods with a high degree of accuracy. In fact, it is now widely accepted that massive volcanic activity at the end of the Permian led to global warming caused by carbon dioxide, while the warming oceans became acidified and depleted of dissolved oxygen—events which underline the importance of correctly understanding the current warming of the planet and predicting our own future.

 Further, for the past fourteen years Dr. Knoll has taken part in NASA's Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, helping to lead the planning and implementation of exploration by the rover Opportunity. His expertise with regard to life and its early evolution on Earth has done much to help elucidate the habitability of ancient Mars.

 Dr. Knoll's career to date has thus advanced the field of paleontology by furthering our understanding of the early evolution of life in light of the early planetary environment and its changes. By analyzing the dynamic interactions between life and the environment in detail, Dr. Knoll has also laid a theoretical foundation for understanding evolution in the Phanerozoic Eon. In addition to their value to paleontologists, these distinguished achievements have provided knowledge that is a vital aid to predicting the future of life on Earth, and they make Dr. Knoll a worthy recipient of the International Prize for Biology.

International Prize for Biology

  The International Prize for Biology was instituted in April of 1985 by the Committee on the International Prize for Biology. It aims to commemorate the sixty-year reign of Emperor Showa and his longtime devotion to biological research and also to offer tribute to the present Emperor His Majesty Emperor Akihito, who has strived over many years to advance the study taxonomy of gobioid fishes while contributing continuously to the developing of this Prize. The award ceremony is held every year and Their majesties the Emperor are expected to be present.