Congratulations to the winners of the SMBE 2021 annual Faculty Awards

2021 SMBE Early-Career Excellence Award Winner: Kelley Harris

Kelley Harris is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, as well as an Affiliate Assistant Member of the Herbold Computational Biology Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Her group is trying to understand how mutational processes are shaped by genetic drift and natural selection and how this evolutionary process in turn modulates the accumulation of genetic variation. After earning a B.A. in Mathematics from Harvard and an M.Phil. in Biological Sciences from Cambridge, advised by Richard Durbin, she completed her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley working with Rasmus Nielsen and Yun Song. Her postdoctoral work at Stanford in the lab of Jonathan Pritchard was supported by an NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellowship. The Harris Lab is currently supported by an NIH NIGMS R35 grant as well as grants from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Sloan Foundation, the Kinship Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
 

2021 SMBE Mid-Career Excellence Award Winner: Tanja Stadler

Tanja Stadler is an Associate Professor at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) in Basel. Further, Tanja is president of the Swiss National COVID-​19 Science Task Force. Tanja studied Applied Mathematics at the Technical University of Munich (Germany), the University of Cardiff (UK), and the University of Canterbury (New Zealand). She obtained a Master degree in 2006 and a PhD in 2008 from the Technical University of Munich (with Prof. Anusch Taraz and Prof. Mike Steel). Tanja then joined ETH Zürich as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Sebastian Bonhoeffer in the Department of Environmental Systems Sciences, and was promoted to Group Leader in 2011. In 2014, she moved to the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering as an Assistant Professor where she obtained tenure in 2017. Her work is at the interface of mathematics, computer science, evolution, ecology and infectious diseases. In particular, she develops phylogenetic tools to address epidemiological and medical questions, as well as questions in the fields of ecology, species evolution, cell differentiation and language evolution. Her honors include the TUM PhD award 2008, the John Maynard Smith prize 2012, the ETH Latsis prize 2013, the Zonta prize 2013, and the ETH Golden Owl for teaching in 2016. In 2013, Tanja received an ERC starting grant. In 2020, Tanja received an ERC consolidator grant.

2021 SMBE Lifetime Research Achievements Award Winner: Michael Lynch

Michael Lynch is currently the Director of the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution, Arizona State University, where he also heads an NSF-funded center grant focused on the cellular mechanisms of evolution. His research has long focused on the genetic mechanisms of evolution, particularly at the genomic and cellular levels, and on population-genomic analysis. His lab works with a number of model systems, most notably the microcrustacean Daphnia, the ciliate Paramecium, and numerous other unicellular prokaryotic and eukaryotic species. Current re

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  • Monday, August 16, 2021
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In Memoriam - SMBE mourns the passing of Dr. Richard Charles "Dick" Lewontin

Dear SMBE Members,

On the morning of July 4, 2021, population geneticist Richard “Dick” Lewontin passed away at the age of 92, just three days after his high-school sweetheart and wife of 73 years, Mary Jane. Both had been in poor health. Lewontin was an emeritus Professor in the Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Curator in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Lewontin has left an indelible imprint on the field of evolutionary biology through his research, writing, and mentorship.

After finishing his undergraduate degree at Harvard, Lewontin trained under the supervision of the famous Drosophila geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia. Dobzhansky was often away collecting flies, which provided Lewontin freedom and independence. But, when Dobzhansky was back in the lab, they purportedly argued intensely about population genetics, an activity both parties enjoyed immensely.

Fresh after earning his PhD from Columbia, he moved to North Carolina State University, where he remained for just 4 years (1954-1958) before moving, first to the University of Rochester, and then to the University of Chicago. In his early work, Lewontin was known for bringing a mathematical modeling approach to the field of genetics. While most population genetics was focused on a single gene, his early work with Ken-Ichi Kojima essentially founded two-locus theory and introduced the term “linkage disequilibrium” to describe the statistical association between the variation at each of a pair of genes. This work laid the foundation for now commonly used, association-mapping approaches.

However, the primary reason Lewontin moved to Chicago was because he recognized the exciting work of biochemist Jack Hubby, a new faculty member, who was pioneering the method of gel electrophoresis. As Lewontin put it: Hubby had a method but no question, and he had a question but no method. Together, they published two ground-breaking papers in Genetics: Hubby & Lewontin (1966) and Lewontin & Hubby (1966). The first focused on the method by which one could assay genetic variation via gel electrophoresis, and the second applied this method to assess genetic variation in a population of Drosophila pseudoobscura. Lewontin complained – even decades later – how the latter paper was more highly cited, and Hubby wasn’t adequately recognized for his contributions. Nonetheless, together, these papers laid the foundation for the field of molecular evolution, by (1) demonstrating the surprisingly high amount of genetic variation (heterozygosity) in natural populations and (2) setting the stage for the still ongoing debate about how much of this variation was due to natural selection and how much was due to chance. See Charlesworth et al. (2016) for more detail. As a direct consequence of these studies, Motoo Kimura and his colleagues developed the neutral theory, which tries to explain in quantitative terms the observed pattern of genetic variation expected in the absence of any form of natural selection. Thus, effectively, these papers set the agenda, for both empirical and theoretical population genetics, for the ensuing decades and to the current era of population genomics.

In 1973, Lewontin was lured to Harvard University and the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) to serve as a “Curator of Population Genetics”, a new position designed for him. He was offered the entire third floor of the MCZ, which he had renovated to his specifications. Most notably, in the center was an expa

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  • Friday, July 09, 2021
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Election results President-Elect and two Councillors 2022

As announced earlier on social media, our election for President-elect and two Councillors whose terms will begin on 1 January 2022 resulted in the following appointments:

SMBE President-elect: Dr. Kateryna Makova

A native of Ukraine, Kateryna Makova received her PhD from Texas Tech University, where she studied the genetic consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident. She then completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Chicago, where she investigated differences in mutation rates between males and females, among other topics. She has been a Professor in the Department of Biology at the Pennsylvania State University since 2003. Her laboratory conducts research in evolutionary and medical genomics. Current topics of interest include sex chromosome evolution, evolution of non-B DNA, mitochondrial DNA evolution, regional variation in mutation rates, and childhood obesity. The research in Kateryna’s laboratory is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative. The group collaborates with statisticians, computer scientists, and biochemists.

During her career Kateryna has mentored 15 PhD students and 11 postdoctoral fellows, and co-authored over 100 scientific manuscripts. She currently directs the Center for Medical Genomics, which brings together basic science and medical researchers at Penn State University. She is an Editor of Genome Research and is a member of the Board of Scientific Counsellors to the National Library of Medicine (the National Institutes of Health).

Kateryna still remembers attending her first SMBE meeting in 1998 in Vancouver. She has been an active member of the society since then. Kateryna was a member of the Organizing Committee of the SMBE annual meeting hosted in 2004 at Penn State. In subsequent years, she was a member of the Nominating Committee, Fitch Prize Awards Committee, and Travel Awards Committee, as well as organized multiple symposia at the SMBE annual meetings. Kateryna was a Councillor of SMBE in 2015-2017. Her main contributions while serving at the Council include establishing the uniform annual meeting format and handling the satellite meetings program. She has been a strong supporter (and an occasional user) of the childcare program and advocated for increasing the number and amount of meeting travel awards. Kateryna was a member of the Editorial Board of Genome Biology and Evolution from the foundation of the journal in 2009 and until 2020.

As the next SMBE President, Kateryna proposes to work on:

  • Developing a hybrid meeting format for future SMBE conferences, which should include in-person and on-line events. What can we learn from the pandemic? How can we build an annual conference that enables both on-line attendance to anyone in the world and live interactions to those who can travel.
  • Augmenting annual SMBE conferences with public lectures given by our leading researchers. Communicating our scientific discoveries to the public, including school students and teachers, is of paramount importance in the time when science is not trusted in many countries.
  • Establishing novel mentorship opportunities at all career levels (from undergraduate students to assistant professors) within the society both during and outside of the annual meeting. Females and people from minority groups should have a priority in such mentorship opportunities.
  • Expanding regional meeting programs to include more developing countries. Not everyone can afford to attend an annual meeting on another co

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  • Thursday, July 08, 2021
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