University of Rochester

University of Rochester Biologist Accepts Rare Darwin-Wallace Medal

February 9, 2009

Biological Science Award Presented Only Once Every 50 Years

The Council of the Linnean Society of London, the world's oldest active biological society, will award Professor H. Allen Orr the Darwin-Wallace Medal on February 12, 2009, the 200th birthday of Charles Robert Darwin. Twelve other awardees, including such evolutionary giants as the late Professor Stephen Jay Gould, will also receive the award, which is given only once every 50 years.

Orr, University Professor and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, spoke to the Linnean Society on July 1, 2008—the 150th anniversary of the first reading to the Society of the Darwin-Wallace paper that officially presented the theory of natural selection.

"Allen is one of the University's most distinguished faculty members and one of the most outstanding biologists in the world," says Peter Lennie, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. "He richly deserves such a marvelous honor as this medal to mark his achievements across so many disciplines."

Thomas Eickbush, chair of the Department of Biology says, "Allen's research in the process of speciation has always involved a highly impressive combination of theoretical and empirical work. His studies have become classics in our attempts to understand this fundamental component of evolutionary biology, thus it comes as no surprise that he would place among the highly distinguished recipients of this award."

Orr studies how genes cause reproductive isolation between species, what the normal functions of these genes are, and what evolutionary forces drove the parent species to bifurcate into two incompatible species. His innovative combination of studies on the biology of Drosophila and theoretical work proved the "dominance theory" of Haldane's Rule—a hypothesis that has been controversial since it was proposed in 1922.

Orr has received several fellowships, including a Guggenheim, a Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science and Engineering, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. He is also the winner of the Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. In 2002, he was named the University of Rochester's Professor of the Year in Natural Sciences.

Orr co-authored the book Speciation (Sinauer Associates, Inc., May 2004, with Jerry A. Coyne), a scholarly review and critique of research on the origin of species. He is also a frequent contributor of book reviews and critical essays to such publications as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.

The Darwin-Wallace Medal was first awarded in 1908, and again in 1958. The medal has a profile of Darwin on the face and a full-face image of Wallace on the reverse, with the marginal inscription "LINN. SOC. LOND. 1 July 1858" on both sides. In recognition of the continuing importance of research on evolutionary biology, the society will award the medal annually after May 2009.

The Linnean Society of London was founded in 1788, taking its name from the Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) who developed the system of binomial nomenclature. This system today provides the fundamental framework for knowledge of the biota of the Earth, supporting effective conservation measures and the sustainable use of biodiversity.