Community Service Award

This award will be awarded to members of SMBE who have provided exceptional service to SMBE and the broader scientific community. The term "service" applies broadly to include specific service to the community (such as to the SMBE journals, the Council or annual meetings) and also service that includes scientific outreach and education. The prize includes an award of $2000 as well as reimbursement to attend the annual meeting. This award will be made periodically and initiated by the SMBE council.

2017 SMBE Community Service Award Winner: Sudhir Kumar, Temple University

Sudhir Kumar has been an early leader in exploring the theoretical and empirical intersection of evolutionary biology with computational biology, and forging accessible tools that allow researchers from diverse backgrounds to harness the analytical power of modern computational biology. With a background in Biological Sciences and Electrical & Electronics Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, he completed a Ph.D. and postdoctoral work in Genetics at Pennsylvania State University, mentored by Dr. Masatoshi Nei. During this period, he worked to develop the first version of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis (MEGA), a freely-accessible software package that has been maintained and improved over more than 20 years since its release. The enduring popularity of MEGA results from Kumar’s responsiveness to community needs and dedication to accessibility and scientific rigor. He has made numerous contributions to the mathematical theory of phylogenetics through advances in estimating evolutionary distances, inference of divergence times, and algorithms for constructing phylogenetic trees. Kumar and his laboratory continue to work actively on improving phylogenetic theory and applications to the growing field of phylomedicine, which explores disease via phylogenetic methods and makes predictions informed by evolutionary biology. Sudhir Kumar is currently the Laura H. Carnell Professor and the Director of the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine at Temple University. He has served the SMBE community as elected Secretary, webmaster, President, chair of the organizing committee of the SMBE annual meeting in 2006 in Tempe, Arizona, and is currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of the society journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

2016 SMBE Community Service Award Winner: Bill Martin

As a scientist, Bill Martin has furthered our understanding of life's early history with contributions to the study of physiology, gene transfer and endosymbiosis in microbial evolution. He has served SMBE for well over a decade. As the Editor-in-Chief of MBE 2003-2008, he fostered growth of the journal and the society while helping to usher SMBE into the age of electronic publishing. In 2009 he founded SMBE’s second journal, Genome Biology and Evolution, which was the first society-owned, open-access journal in the biological sciences.  He has served as the Editor-in-Chief ofGBE since its inception, overseeing the journal's contribution to the society and its benefit to the field. Bill is a fellow in the American Academy for Microbiology, a member of EMBO, and has been Chair of the Institute of Molecular Evolution at the University of Dusseldorf since 1999.

Award Information

Eligibility:  All members of the SMBE community are eligible for this prize. Members of the SMBE Council are not eligible for any awards during their years on council or in the year immediately following their service.

Nomination:  Nomination will be an open process that begins with a call to SMBE members, typically early in the calendar year.

All nominations will include:

  • A nomination letter that includes a recommendation for the candidate.

  • A one-page statement summarizing the candidate’s work and its fit to the award. 
  • A CV of the candidate.
  • A second recommendation letter.

Process: The President will convene an awards committee who will choose among those nominated.  It may also choose not to award the prize if no suitable candidates are nominated.


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Genome Biology & Evolution

RAD-Seq Reveals Patterns of Additive Polygenic Variation Caused by Spatially-Varying Selection in the American Eel ( Anguilla rostrata )


The American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) has an exceptional life cycle characterized by panmictic reproduction at the species scale, random dispersal, and selection in a highly heterogeneous habitat extending from subtropical to subarctic latitudes. The genetic consequences of spatially-varying selection in this species have been investigated for decades, revealing subtle clines in allele frequency at a few loci that contrast with complete panmixia on the vast majority of the genome. Because reproduction homogenizes allele frequencies every generation, sampling size, and genomic coverage are critical to reach sufficient power to detect selected loci in this context. Here, we used a total of 710 individuals from 12 sites and 12,098 high-quality single nucleotide polymorphisms to re-evaluate the extent to which local selection affects the spatial distribution of genetic diversity in this species. We used environmental association methods to identify markers under spatially-varying selection, which indicated that selection affects ∼1.5% of the genome. We then evaluated the extent to which candidate markers collectively vary with environmental factors using additive polygenic scores. We found significant correlations between polygenic scores and latitude, longitude and temperature which are consistent with polygenic selection acting against maladapted genotypes in different habitats occupied by eels throughout their range of distribution. Gene functions associated with outlier markers were significantly enriched for the insulin signaling pathway, indicating that the trade-offs inherent to occupying such a large distribution range involve the regulation of metabolism. Overall, this study highlights the potential of the additive polygenic scores approach in detecting selective effects in a complex environment.

Unravelling the Genetic Diversity among Cassava Bemisia tabaci Whiteflies Using NextRAD Sequencing


Bemisia tabaci threatens production of cassava in Africa through vectoring viruses that cause cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). B. tabaci sampled from cassava in eight countries in Africa were genotyped using NextRAD sequencing, and their phylogeny and population genetics were investigated using the resultant single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. SNP marker data and short sequences of mitochondrial DNA cytochrome oxidase I (mtCOI) obtained from the same insect were compared. Eight genetically distinct groups were identified based on mtCOI, whereas phylogenetic analysis using SNPs identified six major groups, which were further confirmed by PCA and multidimensional analyses. STRUCTURE analysis identified four ancestral B. tabaci populations that have contributed alleles to the six SNP-based groups. Significant gene flows were detected between several of the six SNP-based groups. Evidence of gene flow was strongest for SNP-based groups occurring in central Africa. Comparison of the mtCOI and SNP identities of sampled insects provided a strong indication that hybrid populations are emerging in parts of Africa recently affected by the severe CMD pandemic. This study reveals that mtCOI is not an effective marker at distinguishing cassava-colonizing B. tabaci haplogroups, and that more robust SNP-based multilocus markers should be developed. Significant gene flows between populations could lead to the emergence of haplogroups that might alter the dynamics of cassava virus spread and disease severity in Africa. Continuous monitoring of genetic compositions of whitefly populations should be an essential component in efforts to combat cassava viruses in Africa.

Legionella Becoming a Mutualist: Adaptive Processes Shaping the Genome of Symbiont in the Louse Polyplax serrata


Legionellaceae are intracellular bacteria known as important human pathogens. In the environment, they are mainly found in biofilms associated with amoebas. In contrast to the gammaproteobacterial family Enterobacteriaceae, which established a broad spectrum of symbioses with many insect taxa, the only instance of legionella-like symbiont has been reported from lice of the genus Polyplax. Here, we sequenced the complete genome of this symbiont and compared its main characteristics to other Legionella species and insect symbionts. Based on rigorous multigene phylogenetic analyses, we confirm this bacterium as a member of the genus Legionella and propose the name Candidatus Legionella polyplacis, sp.n. We show that the genome of Ca. Legionella polyplacis underwent massive degeneration, including considerable size reduction (529.746 bp, 484 protein coding genes) and a severe decrease in GC content (23%). We identify several possible constraints underlying the evolution of this bacterium. On one hand, Ca. Legionella polyplacis and the louse symbionts Riesia and Puchtella experienced convergent evolution, perhaps due to adaptation to similar hosts. On the other hand, some metabolic differences are likely to reflect different phylogenetic positions of the symbionts and hence availability of particular metabolic function in the ancestor. This is exemplified by different arrangements of thiamine metabolism in Ca. Legionella polyplacis and Riesia. Finally, horizontal gene transfer is shown to play a significant role in the adaptive and diversification process. Particularly, we show that Ca. L. polyplacis horizontally acquired a complete biotin operon (bioADCHFB) that likely assisted this bacterium when becoming an obligate mutualist.

The Diversification of Zika Virus: Are There Two Distinct Lineages?


Zika virus (ZIKV) has caused explosive epidemics in the Pacific and the Americas, posing a serious threat to public health. Conventional opinion advocates that ZIKV evolved into two distinct lineages, namely, African and Asian. Descendants of this latter lineage dispersed globally causing major epidemics. However, based on shared amino acid replacements and phylogenetic analyses, it was recently contentiously proposed that the Asian lineage was a direct descendant of the African lineage. To address this contentious issue, we reconstructed a phylogenetic tree of ZIKV using the method based on shared amino acid replacements and found that ZIKV evolved into two distinct lineages. This supports the conventional phylogenetic divergence pattern of ZIKV. Evidence of recombination and sequencing errors was identified among the large collection of ZIKV. As such problematic sequences could confound the phylogenetic analyses, they were removed. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses using the improved sequence data enabled estimates for the divergence time in the past of the African and Asian lineages of ∼180 years ago. Moreover, we found that the Asian lineage viruses did not evolve at an elevated rate. Our findings provide additional support for the conventional opinion that the Asian lineage of ZIKV diverged from the African lineage.