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

International Prize for biology

Past Recipients


The Committee on the International Prize for Biology of Japan Society
for the Promotion of Science awards the 2018 International Prize for Biology
in the field of "Paleontology" to
Dr. Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University,

  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 33rd Prize is "Paleontology".

Dr. Andrew Herbert Knoll
NAME :  Andrew Herbert Knoll
DATE OF BIRTH :  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 - Fisher Professor of Natural History, Harvard University


1987 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1991 Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences
1996 Member, American Philosophical Society
2003 Honorary Fellow, European Union of Geosciences
2005 Paleontological Society Medal
2007 Wollaston Medal, Geological Society of London
2009 Mary Clark Thompson Medal, National Academy of Sciences, USA
2013 Foreign Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India
2014 Oparin Medal, International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life
2015 Foreign Member, Royal Society of London
2017 Sven Berggren Prize, Royal Physiographic Society of Lund, Sweden

Research Achievements

 Dr. Andrew Herbert Knoll has changed the way we think about our planet's history.  His research combines field and laboratory studies, integrating evolutionary insights from the fossil record with data on environmental history gleaned from chemical analyses of ancient sedimentary rocks.  He is especially well known for his reconstruction of life's early history (actually the first 85% of biological history, culminating in the Cambrian radiation of animals). 

 Dr. Knoll's early field research in the glaciated mountains of Spitsbergen revealed exceptionally preserved fossils of both cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microorganisms. Interpreting them in light of environmental variability, taphonomy (changes that accompany post mortem decay), and comparative biology, Dr. Knoll and his students established the template for modern studies of Earth's early fossil record.  Again focusing on Spitsbergen rocks, Dr. Knoll and John Hayes were the first to analyze Proterozoic biogeochemistry in the context of measured stratigraphic sections, establishing both the unusual behavior of Earth's carbon cycle just before the rise of animals and the utility of chemical stratigraphy for correlating ancient sedimentary rocks.  With Chinese colleagues, Dr. Knoll illuminated the exceptional diversity of eukaryotic organisms in ca. 600-580 million year old phosphatic rocks from China, documenting both complex multicellular algae and populations interpreted as animal diapause cysts, eggs and early cleavage stage embryos.  In 730 million year old rocks from the Grand Canyon, Arizona, Dr. Knoll and his students documented the oldest unambiguously heterotrophic protists -- vase-shaped microfossils of Amoebozoa, a major branch of the eukaryotic tree. And in 1500-1400 million year old shales from Australia, they uncovered an exceptional record of early eukaryotic diversity in the oceans.  Coordinated analyses of iron and sulfur chemistry in the same rocks provided the first empirical confirmation of the hypothesis that in Proterozoic oceans, surface waters contained oxygen, but subsurface water masses commonly did not. 

 Dr. Knoll has also integrated fossils and environmental history in studies of Phanerozoic evolution, commonly using physiology to connect the two.  With Sean Carroll, he wrote a pioneering paper interpreting early animal fossils in light of both late Proterozoic environmental change and then-emerging insights from molecular development. With his students, Dr. Knoll also brought developmental biology to bear on the evolution of leaves in early vascular plants and applied physiological models to quantify fluid flow in Paleozoic seed plants.  And with Karl Niklas and Bruce Tiffney, Dr. Knoll published the first papers to quantify vascular plant diversity through time.  Additionally, Dr. Knoll has documented changes through time in the composition of marine phytoplankton and used insights from physiological ecology to show how changes in primary producers illuminate the broader evolutionary history of marine ecosystems. Dr. Knoll also introduced a novel approach to understanding mass extinction by demonstrating that rapid increases in carbon dioxide could account for observed selectivity in end-Permian mass extinction.  More generally, Dr. Knoll argued that rapid increase in carbon dioxide, ocean acidification, and oxygen depletion in subsurface waters went hand in hand during the end-Permian biological crisis, an observation that resonates with concerns about 21st century global change.

 Dr. Knoll has brought his insights about planetary history to the study of Mars, working as part of the science team for NASA's MER rover mission.  Among other things, Dr. Knoll and his colleagues showed while minerals found in ancient sediments at Meridian planum required water for their formation, as ambient waters evaporated, water activity reached levels that would challenge all known life on Earth.

 In general, then, Dr. Knoll has integrated insights from paleontology, stratigraphy, geochemistry, and comparative biology to build an understanding of Earth (and planetary) history that underscores the dynamic interactions between life and environment across the broad sweep of geologic time. 

Representative Publications:

  1. 1)Knoll, A.H., J.M. Hayes, J. Kaufman, K. Swett, and I. Lambert (1986) Secular variation in carbon isotope ratios from Upper Proterozoic successions of Svalbard and East Greenland. Nature 321: 832-838.
  2. 2)Knoll, A.H., K. Swett, and J. Mark (1991) The Draken Conglomerate Formation: Paleobiology of a Proterozoic tidal flat complex. Journal of Paleontology 65: 531-569.
  3. 3)Butterfield, N.J., A.H. Knoll, and K. Swett (1994) Paleobiology of the Upper Proterozoic Svanbergfjellet Formation, Spitsbergen. Fossils and Strata 34: 1-84.
  4. 4)Xiao, S., Y. Zhang, and A.H. Knoll (1998) Three-dimensional preservation of algae and animal embryos in a Neoproterozoic phosphorite. Nature 391: 553-558.
  5. 5)Knoll, A.H. and S.B. Carroll (1999) The early evolution of animals: Emerging views from Comparative biology and geology. Science 284: 2129-2137.
  6. 6)Xiao, S. and A.H. Knoll (2000) Phosphatized animal embryos from the Neoproterozoic Doushantuo Formation at Weng'an, Guizhou Province, South China. Journal of Paleontology 74: 767-788.
  7. 7)Grotzinger, J.P., W. Watters, and A.H. Knoll (2000) Calcareous metazoans in thrombolytic bioherms of the terminal Proterozoic Nama Group, Namibia. Paleobiology 26: 334-359.
  8. 8)Anbar, A.D. and A.H. Knoll (2002) Proterozoic ocean chemistry and evolution: a bioorganic bridge? Science 297: 1137-1142.
  9. 9)Boyce, C.K. and A.H. Knoll (2002) Evolution of developmental potential and the multiple independent origins of leaves in Paleozoic vascular plants. Paleobiology 28: 70-100.
  10. 10)Knoll, A.H. (2003) Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. Japanese Edition, 2005.
  11. 11)Porter, S.M., R. Meisterfeld, and A.H. Knoll (2003) Vase-shaped microfossils from the Neoproterozoic Chuar Group, Grand Canyon: a classification guided by modern testate amoebae. Journal of Paleontology 77: 205-225.
  12. 12)Shen, Y., A.H. Knoll, and M.R. Walter (2003) Evidence for low sulphate and deep water anoxia in a mid-Proterozoic marine basin. Nature 423: 632-635.
  13. 13)Knoll, A.H., R.K. Bambach, J. Payne, S. Pruss, and W. Fischer (2007) A paleophysiological perspective on the end-Permian mass extinction and its aftermath. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 256: 295-313.
  14. 14)Tosca, N., A.H. Knoll, and S. McLennan (2008) Water activity and the challenge for life on early Mars. Science 320: 1204-1207.
  15. 15)Knoll, A.H. (2011) The multiple origins of complex multicellularity. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 39: 217–239.
  16. 16)Parfrey, L., D. Lahr, A.H. Knoll, and L.A. Katz (2011) Estimating the timing of early eukaryotic diversification with multigene molecular clocks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 108: 13624–13629.
  17. 17)Cohen, P.A. and A.H. Knoll (2012) Neoproterozoic scale microfossils from the Fifteen Mile Group, Yukon Territory. Journal of Paleontology 86: 775-800.
  18. 18)Sperling, E.A., C.A. Frieder, P.R. Girguis, A.V. Raman, L.A. Levin, and A.H. Knoll (2013)Oxygen, ecology, and the Cambrian radiation of animals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 110: 13446-13451.
  19. 19)Knoll, A.H. and M.J. Follows (2016) A bottom-up perspective on ecosystem change in Mesozoic oceans. Proceedings B, Royal Society, 20161755, DOI:10.1098/rspb.2016.1755.
  20. 20)Javaux, E.J. and A.H. Knoll (2017) Micropaleontology of the Lower Mesoproterozoic Roper Group, Australia. Journal of Paleontology 91: 199-229.