Walter M. Fitch

Beginning with the first annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) in 1993, the Walter M. Fitch Symposium has provided a forum for young investigators to showcase their exemplary research. The Walter M. Fitch Award honors the best presentation at this symposium.

Walter Fitch was a pioneer in many areas of molecular evolution, in particular the methodology of phylogenetic reconstruction, the estimation of genetic distances, the study of rate constancy in proteins and DNA sequences, the evolution of codon usage, and retroviral evolution. He also made significant contributions to virology, the origin of life, taxonomy, genetics, and molecular biology. For his work, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Linnean Society. With Masatoshi Nei, he co-founded the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, and served as editor-in-chief for its first 10 years. He also co-founded the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and served as its first president.

Walter Monroe Fitch was born in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1929. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1953 and a Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry in 1958. He was a post-doctoral scholar at both Stanford and University College (London), and held full professorships at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California. He came to University of California, Irvine in 1989 as a Distinguished Professor and later became the Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Walter M. Fitch died on March 11, 2011, at the age of 81.


Members of the SMBE, who are either current graduate students or postdoctoral researchers, who received their primary doctoral-level degree not earlier than a year prior to the convention of the annual meeting of the society, are eligible to apply. A candidate for the award must become member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting.


At the time of registration to an annual meeting, an applicant should submit an abstract and indicate his/her interest in this award.


Before each annual meeting, eight individuals, henceforth referred to as contestants, are selected to present a lecture on the basis of the submitted abstracts.

Travel Awards

Each selected contestant receives a travel award to help him/her attend the annual meeting.


Each selected contestant presents a 15-minute talk in the Walter M. Fitch Symposium. Based on these presentations, a winner is chosen by an anonymous expert panel and awarded the Walter M. Fitch Prize. The expert panel may decide to award the prize to several contestants. All contestants also receive a year an online student/postdoc MBE subscription.


The deadline for abstract submission is determined by the organizers of each annual meeting.

Walter M. Fitch Award Winners

Year Name Title
2013 Karen Wong Miller
UC Berkeley, USA
Genome-Wide Scans Reveal a Young Candidate Speciation Gene in Drosophila
2012 Elizabeth Perry
University Of Oregon, USA
Repeatability in evolution varies with scale, organism, and the nature of selection.
2011 Kerry Geiler-Samerotte
Harvard University, USA
The selective cost of misfolded protein toxicity and a concomitant evolutionary adaptation.
2010 Takashi Tsuchimatsu
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Evolution of self-compatibility in Arabidopsis thaliana by a mutation in the male specificity gene.
2009 Joshua Bayes
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, USA
The molecular basis of hybrid sterility caused by the hybrid sterility gene Odysseus.
2008 Jean-François Gout
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France
Translational control of intron splicing in eukaryotes.
2007 David Des Marais
Duke University, USA
Gene duplication allows substrate specialization in a biosynthetic enzyme.
2006 Jennifer Cork
North Carolina State University, USA
Characterizing three candidate balanced polymorphisms in Arabidopsis thaliana: a reverse genetics approach.
Joanna Kelley
University of Washington, USA
Positive selection in primate tooth enamelin and evidence for human population specific adaptation.
2005 Leslie Collins
Massey University, New Zealand
Cutting it in the RNA World: the spliceosome and splicing in ancestral eukaryotes.
2004 Barbara Engelhardt
University of California at Berkeley, USA
Protein function prediction using a Bayesian model of molecular function evolution.
2003 Yoav Gilad
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany
Loss of olfactory receptor genes is coupled to the acquisition of full trichromatic color vision.
2002 Ying Chen
University of Munich, Germany
Functional analysis of phylogenetically conserved sequence elements in intron 1 of the Drosophila melanogaster Adh gene.
2001 Jeffrey Townsend
Harvard University, USA
Global gene expression variation in natural isolates of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
2000 Eric A. Gaucher
University of Florida, USA
Functional analysis of proteins using covarion-based evolutionary approaches: elongation factors.
1999 Dennis Lavrov
University of Michigan, USA
Arthropod phylogeny based on gene arrangement and other characters from mitochondrial DNA.
1998 Mark Siegal
Harvard University, USA
Functional evolutionary analysis of genes coplaced into the Drosophila genome.
1997 Christiane Biermann
State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA
Sequence variation in the sea urchin sperm protein BINDIN is generated by recombination and length mutations.
Paul Taylor
University of Leicester, UK
Diversity and mutational analyses of the Y-specific mini-satellite, MSY1.
1996 Dmitri A. Petrov
Harvard University, USA
Birth and death of processed pseudogenes in Drosophila: Molecular evolution of a non-LTR retrotransposable element.
1995 Hiroki Oota
University of Tokyo, Japan
Phylogenetic analysis of 2,000 year old human remains of Japan (Yayoi period) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.
1994 Alan Cooper
Smithsonian Institution, USA
Avian evolution in New Zealand as revealed by mitochondrial DNA.
Janet Kornegay
University of California at Berkeley, USA
Molecular adaptation of a leaf-eating bird: stomach lysozyme of the hoatzin.
1993 Youn-Ho Lee
University of California at San Diego, USA
The divergence of species-specific abalone sperm lysin is promoted by positive Darwinian selection: implications regarding speciation.