Evolution 2014: Daniel Matute, Dobzhansky Prize winner

July 14, 2014 • 10:26 am

by Greg Mayer

At the end of last month I attended the Evolution 2014 meetings in Raleigh, North Carolina. Jerry already posted one note about the meetings from Mohamed Noor’s tw**t about the “banana creationist” who protested outside the meeting, and I’ll have a few more posts to add. A good place to start is with Daniel Matute, Jerry’s “hot-dog student” (Jerry’s phrase!), who was awarded the 2014 Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize by the Society for the Study of Evolution, as Jerry announced here earlier this year.

Dan Matute giving the Dobzhansky Prize Lecture at Evolution 2014 in Raleigh, NC.
Daniel Matute giving the Dobzhansky Prize Lecture at Evolution 2014 in Raleigh, NC.

Dobzhansky, as we’ve noted here at WEIT before, was one of the greatest evolutionary biologists of the 20th century, a key figure in expanding the synthesis of Mendelism and Darwinism from theoretical population genetics into the more empirical disciplines, both through his own work and his influence on others; he is also Jerry’s academic grandfather, and thus Daniel’s academic great-grandfather. The prize recognizes an outstanding young evolutionary biologist of great accomplishment and promise; Daniel is the second of Jerry’s students to receive it (the first was Allen Orr). The chief duty of the prize winner is to give a plenary address at the annual meeting (and pick up the award check!).

Dan Matute, just after giving his talk.
Daniel Matute, just after giving his talk. [JAC: he does have arms!]
Daniel’s talk was entitled “Drosophila, reproductive isolation, and speciation”, and concerned his work on the genetics of speciation, with special reference to the species of São Tomé Island in the Gulf of Guinea (here’s a video of a talk Jerry gave on the subject), and natural selection favoring pre-zygotic isolating barriers (a phenomenon known as reinforcement, because it ‘reinforces’ the isolation between nascent species). Jerry has discussed Daniel’s work in previous posts here, here, and here, and you should look at these for a fuller discussion of Daniel’s work.

Daniel also reflected on his path from Colombia to the University of Chicago, and now “soon to be professor” (as Dobzhansky always said) at the University of North Carolina, noting that English was a second language (saying that when he got here, “it was painful to read me”), and thanking all those who had guided and helped him along the way. He said, “Jerry is family to me.”