The Walter M. Fitch Award

The Fitch Award honors the best presentation at the Walter M. Fitch 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).


As the name suggests, this symposium and the associated prize honors Dr. Walter M. Fitch, who 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.

Past Recipients

Year Name Title
 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. A candidate for the award must become member of the Society at least a month before the first day of the annual meeting.


Application Requirements

  • An abstract (250 word max) for the proposed presentation.
  • A one page expanded summary of the research, including an explanation of the broad significance or importance of the work.
  • 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 Walter M. Fitch Symposium at the annual meeting. Based on these presentations, a winner will be chosen by an anonymous expert panel and awarded the Walter M. Fitch Prize (US $2000). All finalists will receive a one-year, online student/postdoc MBE subscription and travel support for attending the meeting (at same rates as other travel awards, see below). Finalists will also receive mentorship and advice for giving oral presentations in advance of the Fitch Symposium.

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