This award is intended for outstanding
senior members of the SMBE community. The primary criterion is a record
of truly outstanding research that has contributed broadly to the field of
Molecular Biology and Evolution. The prize includes recognition at the
annual SMBE banquet, a cash prize of $2000 and a travel award to attend the
annual meeting. This award will be made annually and initiated by the
2019 SMBE Motoo Kimura Lifetime Contribution Award Winner: Wen-Hsiung Li
Wen-Hsiung Li is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, and James D. Watson Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. Li received his PhD in applied mathematics from Brown University in 1972 and is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the 2003 Balzan Prize for Genetics and Evolution, 2009 Mendel medal, and the HUGO 2008 Chen Award. He was President of SMBE in 2000. His research interests include molecular and genomic evolution, methods for DNA sequence and genomic data analysis, and computational biology.
He is the author of the textbooks Fundamental of Molecular Evolution (co-authored with Dan Graur), and Molecular Evolution. He has published more than 400 peer-reviewed publications. His works have been cited more than 65,000 times with an H-index of 103.
2018 SMBE Motoo Kimura
Lifetime Contribution Award Winner: Tomoko Ohta
I was born in 1933, and graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1956. At that time, female students were very few in Japanese Universities, and it was difficult to get a good job in a professional field. I spent a few years at the publishing company doing editorial tasks such as proof-reading. I was not good at this job and was looking for a research position at a university or an institute. Fortunately, the Kihara Institute for Biological Research moved from Kyoto to Yokohama and I was hired. There I worked on plant cytogenetics. Then I had a chance to study at North Carolina State University. After finishing my PhD in 1966, I found a position at the Kimura Laboratory of the National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan, where I started research life on molecular evolution and population genetics. It was a good time to start research in this field, because Kimura was thinking to examine biochemical data from the standpoint of population genetics. He proposed the neutral theory of molecular evolution in 1968. In examining the neutral theory of molecular evolution, I was puzzled by three problems. 1: What are borderline mutations between the selected and the neutral mutations? 2: Why the molecular evolutionary rate depends on year rather than generation time? 3: Why heterozygosity is relatively insensitive to population size? I found that, by incorporating nearly neutral mutations, mostly slightly deleterious, between the selected and the neutral classes, one may explain the questions. I published the theory in 1973. In this century, genome data have tremendously increased and they tend to support the neutral and nearly neutral theories. Genome projects and genome diversity projects have been influential. The range of near-neutrality depends on protein structure and function. Now molecular systems on dynamic protein folding and degradation are being clarified, which suggest versatile nature of protein function.
Recent progress on gene regulation at the molecular level is remarkable. It is now clear that gene regulation depends upon numerous molecular machineries involved in chromatin structure and function. Until recently it has been thought that transcription factor binding to the specific regulatory region mainly controls gene expression. Now it is known that chromatin accessibility is important for transcription factor binding. Chromatin is mainly composed of histones and DNA, and very important for epigenetic processes. The epigenetic phenomena are very complicated and linked to various modification of chromatin components, i.e., DNA methylation, histone methylation, phosphorylation, acetylation, etc. Together with such modifications, RNA and non-histone proteins participate in controlling chromatin structure and function.
Let us consider how the new knowledge on gene expression relates to the neutral and nearly neutral theories. Sometime ago, gene regulatory systems were recognized to be robust. To be robust implies that the system is insensitive to mutations and other perturbations, and is thought to be caused by complex connections of gene expression pathways. I considered that this idea is important to make the range of near-neutrality larger, and hence the contribution of nearly neutral mutations becomes larger. It is now evident that numerous molecular machineries on chromatin structure and function are responsible for robustness. Many of the amino acid substitutions of a component protein of molecular machineries of chromatin are thought to have very small effects and become nearly neutral. Of course some amino acid substitutions may have a significant effect on gene expression or other chromatin functions, and natural selection determines their fate. It is amazing to see that genetic systems are remarkably complex but at the same time versatile. It is difficult to imagine how such complex systems could have evolved. Noteworthy is the fact that various subsystems are repeatedly utilized in evolution. It is important to recognize that these subsystems often have self-organizing properties. Then it is not needed to build subsystems from individual components. I am lucky that I have lived long enough to see such progress in our field, and continue my study at the Akashi Laboratory of the National Institute of Genetics, Japan.
2017 SMBE Motoo Kimura
Lifetime Contribution Award Winner: W. Ford Doolittle, Dalhousie University
W. Ford Doolittle was born in Urbana, Illinois in
1942. He attended Harvard College (BA in Biochemical Sciences) and Stanford
University (PhD in Biological Sciences, with Charles Yanofsky). After
postdoctoral work with Sol Spiegelman and Norman Pace, he took up a position
at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he has been ever
since. For twenty years he directed the Evolutionary Biology Program of the
Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. His 300+ papers include experimental
proof of the endosymbiont hypothesis, early molecular studies of
cyanobacteria, the first shuttle vector and mapping systems for Archaea, and
the metagenomic discovery of actinorhodopsin. Of a more theoretical nature are
his developments of the "introns-early" hypothesis, the notion of "selfish
DNA", Constructive Neutral Evolution as an alternative to selection, and a
reconsideration of the Tree of Life in the light of lateral gene transfer. He
is currently more concerned with philosophical issues, such as the meaning of
"function" and the possibility of "Darwinizing Gaia". He is a Fellow of the
Royal Society of Canada and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences,
and the winner of the 2013 Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal and the 2017 Killam
Prize in Natural Sciences, Canada's highest awards.
2016 SMBE Motoo Kimura Lifetime Contribution
Award Winner: Nancy Moran
Nancy Moran's long-term interests
are in the evolution of biological complexity, such as that apparent in
complex life histories, in intimate interactions among species and in
species-diversity of clades and communities. Her research has focused
extensively on symbiosis, particularly between multicellular hosts and
microbes. In her storied career, she has demonstrated ancient
coevolution between aphids and their plant hosts, and has characterized
mutualistic symbiotic interactions between aphids and Buchnera bacteria and
between other insect and symbiont clades. She found that these mutualisms
are ancient, dating to the origins of major insect clades, and that the long
term vertical transmission of the bacterial symbionts has caused extreme
genome degradation and shrinkage. Her ongoing projects include
phylogenetic and genomic studies of previously unstudied insect symbioses,
experiments on gene expression of symbionts within hosts, computational
reconstruction of the content and arrangement of genes in bacterial ancestors,
and experimental investigations of coevolved gut communities within social
bees. She has previously been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and the
International Prize for Biology, and has been a member of that National
Academy of the Sciences since 2004. She is currently the Leslie Surginer
Endowed Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University
of Texas, Austin.