Dr. Eric S. Lander, professor of biology and director of the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research, has received three major awards--the 1998 Chiron Corporation Biotechnology Award, the Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award and the Phi Beta Kappa Associates Award.
"We are extremely pleased that Eric has been chosen for these honors. Eric has made remarkable contributions to the field of genomics and has spearheaded the international efforts to build the definitive landmark maps of the mouse and human genomes," said Professor of Biology Gerald Fink, director of the Whitehead Institute.
The Chiron award honors outstanding contributions to the application of biotechnology through fundamental research, development research or reduction to practice. Dr. Lander won "in recognition of his development of statistical methods to allow the analysis of large data sets of genetic information," according to a Chiron spokesperson. Under Dr. Lander's direction, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research has contributed to the establishment of the first physical maps of the human genome and the construction of high-resolution genetic maps of mice.
Dr. Lander shares this year's award with David Botstein and Ronald Davis of Stanford University, who in 1980 laid the groundwork for the first human genetic linkage maps by recognizing that some genetic markers could be used both for the construction of genetic maps and the localization and cloning of disease genes. All three honorees were nominated by Dr. Fink.
The Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation, based in Beverly Hills, CA, supports an annual $35,000 award for distinguished achievement in each of three fields: cancer, cardiovascular disease and neuropsychiatry. Professor Lander was recognized for his work in cancer research (in 1997 the award went to MIT Professor and Whitehead member Robert Weinberg).
The Phi Beta Kappa Associates Award is presented annually "to recognize excellence, integrity and outstanding scholarly achievement which uniquely enhances the scope of human knowledge or the depth of human understanding or significantly advances appreciation of the human condition," said Alvin Edelman, president of the Phi Beta Kappa Associates. The award is made in one of four categories on a rotating basis; the 1998 award is in the category of physical and biological sciences and mathematics. Jonas Salk is the only other scientist to have received the award. Other past recipients include Eudora Welty, Elie Wiesel, and Judith and Bill Moyers.
"I am truly honored to receive these awards," Professor Lander said. "Today, we stand on the brink of a new era in biology as genetic maps--the 'periodic tables' of life--come into sharper and sharper focus. Fifteen years ago, we knew more about the surface of Mars than we did about the structure of the human genome. Today, we have detailed maps of the genome with almost 25,000 discrete landmarks spanning all of the human chromosomes."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 10, 1998.