Family business: Daniel Matute wins Dobzhansky Prize, and Matthew’s cats

I’m very proud to report that my last student, Dr. Daniel Matute, has been awarded the Dobzhansky Prize from the Society of the Study of Evolution. The award and description of Daniel’s work is here.  The prize, which comes with a generous emolument, is perhaps the most prestigious award conferred on a beginning evolutionary biologist. In 2011 Daniel also won the University of Chicago prize for the best dissertation in the biological sciences. Here’s the description of the Dobzhansky Prize (Dobzhansky was my academic grandfather, the advisor of Dr. Richard Lewontin, my own advisor):

The Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize is awarded annually by the Society for the Study of Evolution to recognize the accomplishments and future promise of an outstanding young evolutionary biologist.   The prize was established in memory of Professor Dobzhansky by his friends and colleagues, and reflects his lifelong commitment to fostering the research careers of young scientists.

Daniel graduated from my lab in 2011 and has been doing a postdoc on Drosophila genetics and speciation in the laboratory of Dr. Molly Przeworski (also at the U of C) since then. He’ll be starting his first job this fall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Daniel’s work in the lab was on the genetics of reproductive isolation, of morphological differences between species, and on the phenomenon of “reinforcement” (the increase in reproductive isolation between species in areas where their ranges overlap). That work resulted in seven papers in major journals, including Cell, Evolution, Science, Current Biology and PLoS Genetics. It is a remarkable record of accomplishment.

A note of paternal pride: I’ve had only four students get their Ph.D.s in my lab, but two of them (the other was Allen Orr) have won this prize. And one of my other students, Mohamed Noor, is the President of the Society that will be giving Daniel his award at the annual meetings in Raleigh, North Carolina, this year. (Orr was also president of the SSE.) As my career winds down, I am satisfied that I have replaced myself several times over. What better legacy can a scientist have? Our own work and achievements stand out only briefly, the lower bricks in an ever-growing wall, but the wall is what’s important.

Here’s Daniel hard at work:

Daniel Matute

Here’s our “family tree” rooted at the great geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan (click to enlarge). Kelly Dyer was not my student but my technician, but she’s now gone on to become a professor of genetics at the University of Georgia.  Audrey Chang left my lab before completing her degree, but eventually got her Ph.D. from Noor (it’s all very incestuous) and is now at the American Museum of Natural History.

Screen shot 2014-04-01 at 7.17.55 AM

And, because I don’t know where else to put this, here’s a picture that Matthew Cobb, frequent contributor to this site, sent me yesterday. It shows his cats, Ollie, and Pepper, and came with the note that they were enjoying the spring warmth, as well as this:

Their different gazes sum up their characters – Pepper is very laid back while Ollie (the nose-scratcher) is skittish. They found the door into summer! (Or spring, anyway)

“Nose scratcher” refers to the fact that when I first met Ollie, I held him up to my face to give him fusses, and he simply swiped at my nose with his paw, inflicting a copiously bleeding wound.

photo 1 5






  1. Dominic
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Congratulations to Daniel. Atleast you can say that you have helped build that wall. (Although I admit to building walls at St.Paul’s, they were stone!)

    I cannot find a biological equivalent of these academic genealogies – can anyone else?

  2. gbjames
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Congratulations, Dr. Matute!

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Congrats Daniel & never change, Ollie! You never know when human feet might actually be a vicious monster. You’ll be safe while those other suckers will be devoured!

  4. Posted April 1, 2014 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    Fantastic! Congratulations to both of you!

  5. JBlilie
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Congratulations Dr. Matute!

    And congratulations Jerry! Must be like launching your children into successful lives. Well done!

    As some famous Roman said, whose name I can never recall: Success in life is seeing your grandchildren grow up.

  6. derekw
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Congratulations to all. Interestingly many including Francis Collins in ‘Language of God’ (and Mayr, Gould) seem to consider Theodosius Dobzhansky as the ‘father’ of modern theistic evolution.

  7. Hempenstein
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    What does (Evolution Tree) refer to under some of your grandchildren?

  8. Posted April 1, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Congrats, Doc Matute! How long do you think it’s gonna take for you to best Doc Noor’s baker’s dozen doclets?


  9. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Congrats to Daniel for the well-earned recognition!

    (I love the way the word “emolument” rolls around on one’s tongue.)

  10. Posted April 1, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    A hearty congratulations to Dr. Matute — and to Jerry. Well done!

    It’s more than a bit distressing, though, that only 3 women have been awarded this prize.

  11. Sergio
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Congrats Daniel (and Jerry)! Very well deserved, no doubt about that. You have tackled very important questions in speciation research.

    I have one question though. Is this prize conferred to young and promising evolutionary biologists or to young and promising speciation geneticists only?

  12. Mike Leegaard
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations, Dr. Matute! I can’t imagine how rewarding it must be to have a student do so well.

  13. Posted April 1, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Great job to all.

    Another one of yours in NC. UNC is really close to Duke. Now get someone to come to North Carolina State University in Raleigh and we are all set in the RDU area.

    I have a student in my high school class in Raleigh by the name of Matute. Perhaps showing him this article will inspire him more in science–he’s a bright young man.

%d bloggers like this: