Finch researchers win Kyoto Prize

linkurl:Peter;http://www.princeton.edu/eeb/people/display_person.xml?netid=prgrant&display=All and linkurl:Rosemary Grant,;http://www.princeton.edu/eeb/people/display_person.xml?netid=rgrant&display=All emeritus professors at Princeton University who were the first to document natural selection in action, have won the 2009 Kyoto Prize in the category of Basic Sciences for their work on evolutionary adaptations in response to environmental flux. Image: Denise ApplewhitePrinceton University"

By | June 20, 2009

linkurl:Peter;http://www.princeton.edu/eeb/people/display_person.xml?netid=prgrant&display=All and linkurl:Rosemary Grant,;http://www.princeton.edu/eeb/people/display_person.xml?netid=rgrant&display=All emeritus professors at Princeton University who were the first to document natural selection in action, have won the 2009 Kyoto Prize in the category of Basic Sciences for their work on evolutionary adaptations in response to environmental flux.
Image: Denise Applewhite
Princeton University
"I can't think of any other scientists who deserve it more," said linkurl:Kenneth Petren,;http://bioweb.ad.uc.edu/faculty/petren/ a former postdoc of Peter Grant and now a professor at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, citing "their long term commitment to unraveling some very complex problems" in evolutionary biology. Following in Darwin's footsteps, the Grants have spent 35 years studying the finches he discovered on the Galápagos Islands during his Beagle tour. In perhaps their most famous contribution to the evolutionary literature, the Grants demonstrated how, in just a few short generations, the beak size and shape of ground finches (genus Geospiza) transformed as a consequence of the availability of different sized seeds, which fluctuates with the varying levels of rainfall caused by the El Nino-Southern Oscillation. linkurl:That study,;http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.2307/2265625 published in Ecology in 1996, was cited more than 85 times, according to ISI. "The Grants' empirical research has made the most important contribution since Darwin toward making evolutionary biology a science in which proof is possible," stated a press release from the Inamori Foundation, which sponsors the award. The Grants still travel every year to Daphne Major of the Galápagos archipelago, where they continue to study rapid changes in morphology and behavior of finches in response to changing environmental conditions. "The kind of data they collected was very challenging," Petren said. In addition to the rough terrain of the Galápagos the researchers must traverse to find their study subjects, he explained, decisively demonstrating that these changes were caused by shifts in the environment takes a lot of detailed data over an extended period of time. "And they do this as if it were walking in the park," he said. And after nearly four decades of following the finch populations, the couple now knows every bird on the island, Rosemary Grant said in a statement released by Princeton University this morning. The Grants met in 1960 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she was a research associate and he was just starting his PhD. They came to Princeton in 1985. Throughout their career, they have published more than 200 papers. "They're exceptionally good at pinching off very broadly appealing, scientifically rigorous snippets of what's happening over that long term study," Petren said. "It's part of why they're so successful." In 2008, they also published a book entitled linkurl:How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin's Finches,;http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8486.html in which they describe their experiences in the field while detailing the evolutionary history of the fourteen finch species that currently inhabit the Galápagos. "They're great naturalists with endless amounts of information about the islands," Petren said. The Grants are the first husband-and-wife team to ever receive the Kyoto Prize. "They really do operate as a pair at all times," Petren said. "They are a complete team, and they have been ever since they started the work on Daphne with their family." The Kyoto Prize was founded in 1985 by the Inamori Foundation of Japan and honors lifetime achievements in basic science, advanced technology, and arts and philosophy. Isamu Akasaki of Nagoya University and Meijo University in Japan will receive the prize for his work on the development of blue light emitting devices. Pierre Boulez, honorary director of the Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic/Music in France, will receive the prize for his innovation as a composer and conductor. The award includes a cash prize of 50 million yen (approximately $500,000). The recipient are invited to Kyoto to receive the award this November as well as to San Diego in April 2010 for the ninth annual Kyoto Prize Symposium.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Darwin's (and Grants') Finches;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/61/
[11th June 2005]*linkurl:Gene controls beak morphology;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22382/
[3rd September 2004]*linkurl:Galápagos lab;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/21526/
[12th August 2003]

Comments

Avatar of: John Horsfall

John Horsfall

Posts: 3

June 19, 2009

The best kind of field research: meticulous, long-term, and apparently not driven by fame and citations indices. For anyone who doesn't know the work, especially creationists, start with the Weiner popularisation and work forward.
Avatar of: Sergio Vasquez

Sergio Vasquez

Posts: 24

June 23, 2009

...when you can reference empirical data.\n\nI often use this compelling body of evidence to help describe the processes involved in evolution to those less inclined to studying scientific literature. \n\nStickelback color variation and eyeless Mexican cave fish are other evolutionary tales that lend credence to the claim.

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