Cohen Brothers at TAU awards ceremony 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Three American scientists were among the five winners selected to receive this
year’s Dan David Prizes at Tel Aviv University on Sunday for their innovative
work involving evolution and a hormone that contributes to longevity,
RELATED:Scientist seeks to banish evil, boost empathyGlacier calving reveals secrets of the deep
The awards, which since 2002 have been honoring innovators
in three “Time Dimension” categories of Past, Present and Future with $1 million
each, are endowed by Israeli businessman’s Dan David Foundation, headquartered
at Tel Aviv University.
This year’s “past” award focused on evolution and
went to Prof. Marcus Feldman of Stanford University, while the “future” award
concentrated on ageing and went to Prof. Cynthia Kenyon of the University
of California, San Francisco, and Prof. Gary Ruvkun of Harvard Medical
The “present” award, examining “cinema and society” went to film
giants Ethan and Joel Coen. All of the laureates are able to personally use
$900,000 of their winnings, and the remaining 10 percent must go to scholarship
funds for students, Dan David explained at a press conference on Sunday
“We are encompassing everything,” David said. “Every year, the
board of the prize is focusing on certain fields – for the past, for the
present, for the future.”
Among the winning scientists’ achievements have
included Feldman’s origination of the quantitative theory of genetic modifiers
of recombination, mutation and dispersal – which he has adapted in order to
solve emergent social problems, including the currently dangerous phenomenon of
the “son preference” in China, which he said stems back to the Confucius
“When the Chinese government instituted a fertility control
policy in the 1980s, the “preference of having a son to continue the family
name” prevailed, causing over a 25-year period the ratio of males to females
born to increase to 120:100, according to Feldman.
“What we have done is
to use evolution to predict what will happen to the demography of China if this
continues,” he said. “And the terrible thing that will happen is that there will
be a very big increase in the number of old people and a decrease in the
fraction of working age people to pay for the old people to
Meanwhile, Kenyon and Ruvkun received their award for their
joint research on the genetic regulation of ageing, in which they have targeted
a hormone similar to human insulin that is instrumental in maintaining
longevity, according to the prize committee.
All three professors had
words of encouragement for young, burgeoning scientists interested in pursuing
goals in their fields.
“You need to find something you have a passion for
because it’s hard to keep going,” Kenyon said.
Her co-recipient, Ruvkun,
encouraged taking on role models and collaborating with other scientists as a
mechanism for advancement.
“It’s leapfrogging in a way,” he said. “It’s
actually more of a coordination between labs and jumping between labs. It’s