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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Report on the Process of Selection

Professor Kunio Iwatsuki
Chairman, Selection Committee on the International Prize for Biology

On behalf of the Selection Committee of the 2002 International Prize for Biology, I am pleased to report on this year's selection process.

The Selection Committee consisted of 19 members, including myself. Four of our members were highly authoritative foreign researchers, who had been specially commissioned to serve on the committee.

This year, the applicable area of the prize was stipulated as "Biology of Evolution." The committee distributed a total of 1,787 recommendation forms to Japanese and foreign universities, research centers, academic associations, individual researchers, and international academic organizations involved in this field of biology. In response, the committee received a total of 51 recommendations. As there was some overlapping, the actual number of individuals recommended was 37. They reside in 14 countries spread throughout the world.

The Selection Committee met a total of four times and very carefully reviewed all the candidates. Ultimately, the committee decided to recommend Dr. Masatoshi Nei of the United States of America as the awardee of the 2002 International Prize for Biology.

Dr. Nei was born in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1931. He graduated from Miyazaki University in 1953. After which, he went on to graduate school at Kyoto University, where he became an Assistant Professor. He was, then, employed as a Geneticist at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba. In the meantime, he received his Ph.D. from Kyoto University in 1959. In 1969, he moved to the United States, where he became an Associate Professor and a full Professor at Brown University, and then a Professor at University of Texas at Houston. In 1990, he became a Distinguished Professor of Biology at Pennsylvania State University and the Director of its Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics, where he continues to serve today. In 1985, he acquired US citizenship.

Dr. Nei carried out original work through which he devised innovative statistical techniques for conducting molecular-level studies of genetic diversity in populations and evolutionary relationships among species. He also developed methods for estimating the times of divergence of different species and detecting the gene regions in which natural selection takes place. Accordingly, Dr. Masatoshi Nei has contributed immensely to laying the theoretical foundations of the modern field of molecular evolutionary biology.

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

Using molecular data, Dr. Nei also constructed a mathematical theory for elucidating phylogenetic relationships. He and his colleagues 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.

Furthermore, Dr. Nei was first to clarify the theoretical relationships of gene trees and species trees, thus providing a theoretical basis for explaining many experimental observations that previously could not be elucidated.

As we reviewed Dr. Nei's outstanding achievements, which have stimulated and propelled the advancement of scientific research in this field, we were convinced that his acceptance of the International Prize for Biology would add to the Prizes luminescence and prestige throughout the world.

In making our selection, the major criteria used by the Committee were the originality of the candidate's research and its international significance and contribution to advancing progress in the selected field of biology. We found Dr. Nei's work to more than amply satisfy each and every one of these criteria; and on this basis, we judged him to be the most highly suited candidate to receive this year's International Prize for Biology.

The Committee on the International Prize for Biology accepted our committee's recommendation of Dr. Nei and has bestowed upon him the 2002 International Prize for Biology.

With this, I conclude my report on the Selection Committee.

Thank you.