The 18th(2002) Award
 

Award Ceremony
Opening Address
Report on the Process of Selection
Address by His Majesty the Emperor
Congratulatory Address
(Prime Minister)
Congratulatory Address
(Minister of Education)
Acceptance Address
(Professor Masatoshi Nei)
Awards the 2002 International Prize for Biology
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The Committee on the International Prize for Biology
awards
the 2002 International Prize for Biology in the field of "Biology of Evolution"
to
Dr. Masatoshi Nei, Pennsylvania State University, USA


 

recipient
 


On September 17, 2002, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology (chaired by Dr. Saburo Nagakura, President of the Japan Academy) decided, based on the recommendation of the Prizefs Selection Committee, to present the 2002 International Prize for Biology to Dr. Masatoshi Nei, Professor, Pennsylvania State University, USA. The field of specialization for the 2002 Prize is gBiology of Evolution.h
 


Process of Selection

 

The Selection Committee, composed of a chairman (Dr. Kunio Iwatsuki, Professor, The University of the Air) and 18 other members, including four foreign members, functioned as a sub-committee of the Committee on the International Prize for Biology. It sent out invitations for candidate nominations to academic institutions/associations and individual experts both at home and abroad in the subject field of specialization. Altogether these comprised 1,787 mailing addressees. Fifty-one nominations were received by the deadline. After adjustment for overlapping nominations, there were nominations for 37 individuals who reside in 14 countries spread throughout the world. Upon careful deliberation of the nominees at its first through fourth meetings, the Selection Committee decided to recommend Dr. Nei as the nominee for the 2002 Prize. Thereafter, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology formally endorsed the Selection Committeefs recommendation.


 


Achievements Recognized by the Award

 

Dr. Masatoshi Nei has contributed immensely to laying the theoretical foundations of current molecular evolutionary biology. The award recognizes these distinguished contributions, which arise from his original work in developing many innovative statistical techniques for the study of genetic diversity in populations and evolutionary relationships among species at the molecular level, including methods for estimating the times of divergence of different species and detecting gene regions in which natural selection is operating.

In a career spanning more than forty years, working with many collaborators, Dr. Nei has developed various statistical methods to determine the molecular mechanisms of biological diversity and evolution; he has also elaborated the underlying theory and applied these methods to the analysis of actual data.

One of the best-known statistical methods developed by Dr. Nei defines the degree of genetic difference between populations and estimates this ggenetic distanceh from molecular data on DNA and protein molecules. This measure makes it possible to estimate the origins of populations and the times of their divergence from common ancestors utilizing molecular data; known as gNeifs genetic distance,h it is still in frequent use around the world. Dr. Nei himself applied it to human populations and obtained the first evidence pointing to the African origins of modern humans.

In his research on mathematical modeling of DNA evolution, Dr. Nei devised several statistical methods for estimating the number of synonymous and nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions. By applying these methods to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, which are involved in immune responses such as the rejection of transplanted organs, he then demonstrated that they make it possible to identify gene regions in which natural selection operates strongly. These methods continue to be used by a large number of investigators today.

Dr. Nei further discovered that the puzzling diversity of the MHC genes in human populations is due to a special pattern of DNA evolution that occurs when genes protect their hosts from invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

Dr. Nei has also constructed a mathematical theory of the phylogenetic relationships of genes using molecular data. With one of his graduate students, he developed a technique of inferring molecular phylogenies known as gthe neighbor-joining method,h which has become the most widely used method of constructing phylogenetic trees.

Through these achievements, which laid the foundations for the theoretical framework of current molecular evolutionary biology, Dr. Nei has contributed enormously to the development not only of his own field, but of every branch of biology that is concerned with diversity and evolution.
 


Ceremony and Commemorative Symposium

 

The presentation ceremony for the 2002 International Prize will be convened on Monday, December 2, 2002 at the Japan Academy, Tokyo; and a commemorative international symposium will be held on December 3-4 at Plaza HEISEI in Tokyo.


Committee on the International Prize for Biology
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
6 Ichiban-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8471
Telephone: +81-3-3263-1722, Facsimile: +81-3-3221-2470
 


Curriculum Vitae of Professor Masatoshi Nei, Receipt of the 2002 International Prize for Biology


Date of Birth: January 2, 1931
Nationality: USA
Position: Evan Pugh Professor of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
Address: Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics
Pennsylvania State University
328 Mueller Lab
University Park, PA 16802
USA
 
    @
Education and Career:    
  1953 B.S. from Miyazaki University, Miyazaki, Japan
  1959 Ph.D. from Kyoto University, Japan
  1958-1962 Assistant Professor, Kyoto University, Japan
  1960-1961 Rockefeller Fellow, University of California and North Carolina State University
  1962-1969 Geneticist, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Chiba, Japan
  1969-1972 Associate Professor to Professor of Biology, Brown University, USA
  1972-1990 Professor of Population Genetics, University of Texas at Houston
  1990-1994 Distinguished Professor of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
  1990-present Director, Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetic, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
  1994-present Evan Pugh Professor of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
    @
Awards and Distinctions:    
  1977 Japan Society of Human Genetics Award
  1989 Honorary Member, Genetics Society of Japan
  1990 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  1990 Kihara Prize, Genetics Society of Japan
  1993 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  1996 Honorary Member, Japan Society of Human Genetics
  1997 Member, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  2000 Honorary Member, Japan Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics

RESEARCH ACHIEVEMENTS

Dr. Masatoshi Nei is one of the main architects who laid the theoretical foundations of current molecular evolutionary biology. By developing various statistical methods and applying them to molecular data, he pioneered new ways of studying the genetic diversity of populations, evolutionary relationships among organisms, the times of species divergence from common ancestors, the location of gene regions in which natural selection is operating, and related areas. The methods he introduced have made it possible to obtain quantitative estimates of various parameters of evolutionary importance that could not have been measured experimentally. Through these achievements, Dr. Nei has not only made the latest findings at the molecular level available to evolutionary biologists, but has contributed greatly to the birth of molecular evolutionary biology and its establishment as a positive science in which hypotheses can be verified quantitatively, rather than being discussed solely on a conceptual level.

Evolutionary Histories of Populations and Genetic Distance

One of the best-known statistical methods developed by Dr. Nei is concerned with defining the degree of genetic difference between populations and estimating this ggenetic distanceh from protein and DNA data. Dr. Neifs method, which he proposed in 1972, uses polymorphism data (individual differences in proteins and DNA) to estimate the origins of human and other populations, the times at which they diverged from common ancestral forms, and so on. Under the name gNeifs genetic distance,h it has been adopted worldwide by most researchers in related fields and is still frequently used today.
In 1974, Dr. Nei applied his new measure to human populations and showed that the genetic variation among Europeans, Asians, and Africans is only about 10 percent of the average variation within the three major human ethnic groups; he also estimated that Africans diverged from Europeans and Asians about 100,000 years ago, and Europeans and Asians diverged from each other about 50,000 years ago. This was the first evidence pointing to the African origins of modern humans.

Statistical Methods for Studying DNA Evolution

Focusing at an early stage on DNA sequence data, from the late 1970s Dr. Nei initiated mathematical modeling of DNA evolution. In the mid-1980s, he worked on statistical methods for estimating the number of nonsynonymous substitutions (nucleotide substitutions that result in amino acid replacements) and synonymous substitutions (those that do not result in amino acid replacements), and proposed that the ratio between the two be used to identify gene regions in which natural selection is operating strongly. These methods are now being utilized by a large number of investigators.

Phylogenetic Analysis of DNA and Protein Sequences

During the 1980s, Dr. Nei began to construct a mathematical theory of the phylogenetic relationships of genes, using molecular data such as DNA and protein sequences. He and his collaborators were the first to clarify the theoretical relationships of gene trees and species trees, thus providing a theoretical basis for explaining many experimental observations that had previously defied interpretation. With one of his graduate students, Dr. Nei also developed a technique of inferring molecular phylogenies known as the gneighbor-joining method,h which has become the most widely used method of constructing phylogenetic trees.

Evolution of Immune System Genes

In 1988, Dr. Nei turned his attention to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, which are involved in immune responses such as rejection of organ transplants, and showed that the puzzling variability of these genes in human populations is due to a special pattern of evolutionary change of DNA that occurs when MHC genes protect the host from invaders such as viruses and bacteria. This evolutionary pattern has since been shown to hold true not only for humans but for vertebrates in general.

Dr. Nei also studied gmultigene families,h in which multiple copies of member genes are present in the genome, as is generally the case for the immune system genes. He discovered that the member genes typically evolve according to a pattern called gbirth-and-death evolution,h in which, after gene duplication, the member genes evolve more or less independently of one another, with some staying in the genome for a long time and others disappearing.


These achievements laid the foundation on which rests the theoretical framework of current molecular evolutionary biology. Thus, Dr. Nei has made an enormous contribution to the development of his chosen field of inquiry.

Representative Publications

Nei, M. 1969. Gene duplication and nucleotide substitution in evolution. Nature 221:40-42.
Nei, M. 1972. Genetic distance between populations. American Naturalist 106:283-292.
Nei, M. 1973. Analysis of gene diversity in subdivided populations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 70:3321-3323.
Nei, M. 1975. Molecular Population Genetics and Evolution. North-Holland, Amsterdam and New York.
Nei, M. 1978. Estimation of average heterozygosity and genetic distance from a small number of individuals. Genetics 89:583-590.
Nei, and Li, W. H. 1979. Mathematical model for studying genetic variation in terms of restriction endonucleases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 76:5269-5273.
Nei, M. and Roychoudhury, A. K. 1982. Genetic relationship and evolution of human races.@Evolutionary Biology 14:1-59.
Saitou, N. and Nei, M. 1987. The neighbor-joining method: a new method for reconstructing@phylogenetic trees. Molecular Biology and Evolution 4:406-425.
Nei, M. 1987. Molecular Evolutionary Genetics. Columbia University Press, New York.
Hughes, A. L. and Nei, M. 1988. Pattern of nucleotide substitution at major histocompatibility complex class I loci reveals overdominant selection. Nature 335:167-170.
Nei, M. Gu., X., and Sitnikova, T. 1997. Evolution by the birth-and-death process in multigene@families of the vertebrate immune system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 94:7799-7806.
Nei, M. and Kumar, S. 2000. Molecular Evolution and Phylogenetics. Oxford University Press, Oxford.