Graduate Student Excellence Awards

The SMBE Graduate Student Excellence Award honors the best presentation at the Graduate Student Excellence symposium, which provides a forum for young investigators to showcase their exemplary research at the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE).

Eligibility: Current graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who received their primary doctoral-level degree no earlier than one year prior to the start of the annual meeting of the society (minus any career disruption or delay). A candidate for the award must become a member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting. Approximately eight winners will be selected every year to cover the broad spectrum of research covered by SMBE.

2023 Winners:

Aurora Alvarez-Buylla
Stanford University, USA
Dealing with a deadly diet: toxin binding proteins in poison frogs

Margaux Aubel
University of Münster, Germany
Comparing de novo emerged proteins with their unevolved random-sequence counterparts

Carmina Barberena-Jonas
Unidad de Genómica Avanzada (UGA), Mexico
Analyzing IBD Segments in the MX Biobank to track the Genetic Structure of Mexico Through Time

Carlos R. Cortez-Romero
University of Chicago, USA
Simple mechanisms for the evolution of heterospecificity in the hemoglobin complex

Marianne Dehasque
Stockholm University/ Swedish Museum of Natural History, Sweden
Temporal dynamics of woolly mammoth genome erosion prior to extinction

Ujani Hazra
Georgia Tech, USA
Differences in disease burdens across human populations are governed more by neutral evolution than by recent polygenic selection

Harvinder Pawar
Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC)
Ghost admixture in eastern gorillas

Matteo Sebastianelli
University of Cyprus, Cyprus
Genome-wide association study reveals the polygenic nature of rhythm in a wild non-passerine bird

Kai Yan
Kunming Institute of Zoology, China
Modification of Maternally Defined H3K4me3 Regulates the Inviability of Interspecific Xenopus Hybrids

Past Recipients

Year Name Title

Agneesh Barua, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Onna, Okinawa, Japan

The evolutionary origins of venom: How nature created the perfect chemical weapon


Diana Cruz Dávalos, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland & Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne, Switzerland

Indigenous peoples in eastern Brazil: insights from 19th century genomes and metagenomes

2022 Robert Driver, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA

Dynamic evolution of olfactory receptor repertoires across avian ecology and phylogeny

2022 Steven Fiddaman, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

Archaeological samples reveal the origins of extreme virulence in Marek’s disease virus

2022 Christopher Kyriazis, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Genomic underpinnings of population persistence in Isle Royale moose

2022 Jacob Steenwyk, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

Genes of a feather evolve together: how gene coevolution provides insight into cellular and genomic structure and function

2022 Jessica Warren, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Loss and integration: tracing the functional replacement of mitochondrial tRNA genes

2022 Caroline Weisman, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA

Lineage-specific genes: novelty or noise?


Catarina Branco, Biomedical Research Center (CINBIO), University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain. Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Immunology, University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain

Influence of the Last Glacial Period on the genetic diversity of current Southeast Asians
2021 Ian Vasconcellos Caldas, Department of Computational Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA
Inferring selective sweep parameters through supervised learning
2021 Alida de Flamingh, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA

Sourcing Elephant Ivory from a Sixteenth-Century Portuguese Shipwreck

2021 Michelle P Harwood, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Recombination and population demographics impact allele-specific-expression of deleterious variants in human populations


Amanda Kowalczyk, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Pan-mammalian analysis of molecular constraints underlying extended lifespan in mammals

Yeonwoo Park, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

Historical memory, epistasis, and contingency in long-term protein evolution


Thea F. Rogers, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom

Sex-specific selection drives the evolution of alternative splicing in birds

Mengyi Sun, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Preferred synonymous codons are more accurately translated: proteomic evidence, among-species variation, and mechanistic basis


Hannes Dittberner, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

Blessing or curse? Evolutionary significance of gene-flow between two endangered plant species


Malgorzata Gazda, CIBIO, University of Porto, Vairão, Portugal

A generic mechanism for sexual dichromatism in birds


Elora López, Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, United States

Within-colony variation and the heritability of somatic mutations in clonal, colonial corals


Alina G. Mikhaylova, Center for Mitochondrial Functional Genomics, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Kaliningrad, Russian Federation

Mitochondrial mutational spectrum in poikilothermic versus homeothermic vertebrates: effects of the temperature and lifespan


Rachel Moran, Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, United States

Genomic resources for darters (Percidae: Etheostominae) provide insight into postzygotic barriers implicated in speciation


Emily Roycroft, School of BioSciences, The University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Museum genomics unlocks a historical record of extinction in Australia


Matthew Shepherd, Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom

Gene regulatory network evolution through the rewiring of transcription factors in a bacterial experimental model

Matthew R Jones, University of Montana, Missoula, USA
The origin and spread of locally adaptive seasonal camouflage in snowshoe hares
2018 Harry Kemble, INSERM, France The mechanistic basis of epistatic variety in a metabolic pathway uncovered by high-resolution fitness interaction mapping
 2017 Anna Vickrey, University of Utah, USA  Domestic pigeon’s checkered past: wing color pattern variation is associated with one gene, two mechanisms, and interspecific introgression
 2016 Katya Kosheleva, Harvard University, USA Weakly selected standing variants dominate adaptation for 1000 generations in sexual, laboratory evolved yeast populations 
 2015 Aline Muyle, Université Lyon 1, Lyon, France. Evolution of dosage compensation in the dioecious plant Silene latifolia
 2014 Alex Cagan, Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany  Genetic variants underlying tameness and agression.
2013 Karen Wong Miller, UC Berkeley, USA Genome-Wide Scans Reveal a Young Candidate Speciation Gene in Drosophila athabasca.
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.

Award Information

Eligibility: Current graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who received their primary doctoral-level degree no earlier than one year prior to the start of the annual meeting of the society (minus any career disruption or delay). A candidate for the award must become a member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting. Approximately eight winners will be selected every year to cover the broad spectrum of research covered by SMBE.


Application Requirements

  • An abstract (250 word max) for the proposed presentation.
  • A Curriculum Vitae.
Application: Via the abstract submission system for the annual meeting for which the award applies.  

Contest: A committee convened by the SMBE Council will choose eight finalists from among the applications. Each selected finalist will present a 15-minute talk in the SMBE Graduate Student Excellence Awards Symposium at the annual meeting. All finalists will receive a $500 award.

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