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
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 gNeifs Genetic Distanceh 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
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
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.