Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

2023 Prize Recipient

The  Committee on the International Prize for Biology
awards the 2023 Prize in the field of "Biology of Genomes” to
Dr. Richard Durbin, 
Al Kindi Professor, Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
On August 25, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology (chaired by Dr. FUJIYOSHI Yoshinori, Distinguished Professor, Tokyo Medical and Dental University) decided to award the 39th (2023) International Prize for Biology to Dr. Richard Durbin, Al Kindi Professor, Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
This year’s Prize is awarded in the field of the Biology of Genomes.
リチャード・ダービン 博士 (Dr. Richard Durbin)

Dr. Richard Durbin

Education and Professional Positions

1987      Ph.D. MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge
1986-1988  Research Fellow in Biological Information Processing, King’s College, Cambridge
1988-1990  Lucille P. Markey Visiting Fellow, Department of Psychology, Stanford University
1990-1996  Staff Member, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge UK
1993-2017  Senior Group Leader, Wellcome Sanger Institute
2017-present    Al Kindi Professor, Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge
2017-present    Associate Faculty Member, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Awards and Distinctions

1994    Mullard Medal, Royal Society
2004    Fellow, Royal Society
2004    Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran Award, Foundation for Science and Technology
2009    Member, European Molecular Biology Organisation
2011    Fellow, International Society for Computational Biology
2016    International Steven Hoogendijk Award, Rotterdam
2017    Gabor Medal, Royal Society
2019    International Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Research Achievements

Dr . Richard Durbin has not only developed many innovative technologies in the field of genome biology but has also led numerous international research projects. As a pioneer in the field of bioinformatics, a discipline which combines biology and informatics, he has developed a series of data analysis methods, databases, and formats that underpin much of today’s research involving genomic data. In addition, Dr. Durbin has also played a leadership role in numerous genome sequencing projects that have set milestones in the field of genome biology over a period of more than 30 years.
One of Dr. Durbin's most significant early achievements in the field of genomic biology was leading a project to analyze the first fully sequenced animal genome—that of the nematode C. elegans—from a data analysis and processing perspective, including developing the database that served as the foundation for the project. He also played a significant role in developing a series of technologies related to a data analysis method called the hidden Markov model, which remains pivotal in the analysis of genomic data. Among these research achievements, the Pfam database of protein family domains, for example, continue to be extensively used in genomic biology and serve as the foundation for a wide range of molecular biology research. These technologies also played a key role in the analysis of the human genome sequence, one of the most important achievements in the field of genome biology. Dr. Durbin made significant contributions to the Human Genome Project, including leading the group that identified protein coding genes in the genome. He also published one of the most influential textbooks on computational genomics, Biological Sequence Analysis, making a major contribution to education in the field.
After the completion of the human genome sequence, Dr. Durbin quickly recognized the importance of population genome analysis, which studies the diversity of genomes within a single species, and has consistently spearheaded the direction of genome biology research, including conducting early studies of yeast population genome analysis. As massive parallel sequencing technology emerged in genome biology and the volume of data grew exponentially, Dr. Durbin also worked to develop data analysis methods to efficiently analyze and map the vast amount of data produced by this new technology to genome sequences, including developing the bwa alignment tool, which is still widely used in the genome biology field today. He subsequently jointly led the 1000 Genomes Project and the UK10K Project, both of which aimed to uncover genetic diversity in human populations.
In parallel with these accomplishments, Dr. Durbin's contributions have extended to the development of many important data analysis methods in genome biology, including standardized data formats such as the widely used SAM/BAM and VCF formats, as well as software that enables efficient identification of genetic variations and polymorphisms in genome sequences. In recent years, he has also contributed to the development of theories and methods applied to population genetics, developing PSMC and MSMC, powerful information analysis methods that enable population history to be inferred from limited genome data. These methods developed by Dr. Durbin have had a significant impact beyond biology, influencing fields such as archaeology, including helping uncover that a phenomenon known as bottlenecking, which reduces the size of human populations, occurred when non-African humans left Africa around 50,000 years ago. In more recent years, Dr. Durbin has also played a leadership role in a number of international research projects, including those aiming to analyze the comprehensive genome sequences of the diverse organisms on earth, and he is expected to continue making important contributions to the field of genome biology in the future.

Representative Publications and Literatures

  1. “Towards complete and error-free genome assemblies of all vertebrate species” Rhie A, [121 authors], Howe K*, Myers EW*, Durbin R*, Phillippy AM*, Jarvis ED*. Nature 592:737-746 (2021) 
  2. “Haplotype-aware graph indexes”, Sirén J, Garrison E, Novak AM, Paten B, Durbin R. Bioinformatics 36:400-407 (2020)
  3. “Variation graph toolkit improves read mapping by representing genetic variation in the reference”, Garrison E, Sirén J, Novak AM, Hickey G, Eizenga JM, Dawson ET, Jones W, Garg S, Markello C, Lin MF, Paten B, Durbin R. Nat Biotechnol. 36:875-879 (2018) 
  4. “Whole-genome sequences of Malawi cichlids reveal multiple radiations interconnected by gene flow”, Malinsky M, Svardal H, Tyers AM, Miska EA, Genner MJ, Turner GF, Durbin R. Nat Ecol Evol. 2:1940-1955 (2018)
  5. “Health and population effects of rare gene knockouts in adult humans with related parents”. Narasimhan VM, [33 authors], Durbin R*, van Heel DA*. Science 352:474-7 (2016)
  6. “The UK10K project identifies rare variants in health and disease”, UK10K Consortium, Walter K, Min JL, Huang J, Crooks L, Memari Y, McCarthy S, Perry JR, Xu C, Futema M, Lawson D, Iotchkova V, Schiffels S, Hendricks AE, Danecek P, Li R, Floyd J, Wain LV, Barroso I, Humphries SE, Hurles ME, Zeggini E, Barrett JC, Plagnol V, Richards JB, Greenwood CM, Timpson NJ, Durbin R*, Soranzo N*. Nature 526:82-90 (2015)
  7. “Efficient haplotype matching and storage using the positional Burrows-Wheeler transform (PBWT)”, Durbin R. Bioinformatics 30:1266-72 (2014) 
  8. “Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence”, Scally A, (67 others), Tyler-Smith C, Durbin R. Nature 483:169-175 (2012)
  9. “Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences”, Li H, Durbin R, Nature 475:493-6 (2011)
  10. “Efficient construction of an assembly string graph using the FM-index”, Simpson JT, Durbin R.  Bioinformatics. 26:i367-73 (2010)
  11. “A map of human genome variation from population-scale sequencing”, 1000 Genomes Project Consortium (Durbin R corresponding author). Nature 467:1061-73 (2010)
  12. “The Sequence Alignment/Map (SAM) Format and SAMtools”, Li H, Handsacker B, Wysoker A, Fennell T, Ruan J, Homer N, Marth G, Abecasis G, Durbin R, 1000 Genomes Data Processing Group Bioinformatics 25:2078-9 (2009)
  13. "Fast and accurate short read alignment with the Burrows-Wheeler transform", Li H and Durbin R. Bioinformatics 25:1754-1760 (2009)
  14. “Population genomics of domestic and wild yeasts”, Liti G*, Carter DM*, Moses AM, Warringer J, Parts L, James SA, Davey RP, Roberts IN, Burt A, Koufopanou V, Tsai IJ, Bergman CM, Bensasson D, O'Kelly MJ, van Oudenaarden A, Barton DB, Bailes E, Nguyen AN, Jones M, Quail MA, Goodhead I, Sims S, Smith F, Blomberg A, Durbin R*, Louis EJ*. Nature 458:337-341 (2009)
  15. "Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome". International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium.  Nature 409:860-921 (2001) (lead author for section on protein coding genes)
  16. “Genome Sequence of the Nematode C. elegans: A Platform for Investigating Biology”, The C.elegans Sequencing Consortium.  Science 282:2012-2018 (1998) (lead author for the sequence analysis section)
  17. “Biological Sequence Analysis: probabilistic models of proteins and nucleic acids", R.Durbin, S.Eddy, A.Krogh, G.Mitchison.  Cambridge University Press pp1-344 (1998).
  18. "Pfam: A Comprehensive Database of Protein Families Based on Seed Alignments", E.L.L. Sonnhammer, S.R. Eddy, R. Durbin, Proteins 28:405-420, (1997)
  19. “The ACEDB genome database”, R Durbin and J Thierry-Mieg, pp 45-56 in “Computational Methods in Genome Research”, ed S Suhai, Plenum (1994)
  20. “RNA sequence analysis using covariance models”, SR Eddy and R Durbin, Nucleic Acids Research 22:2079-2088 (1994)