UBC biodiversity expert elected to US National Academy of Sciences

Sarah Otto.

University of British Columbia zoologist Sarah Otto has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, an 150-year-old society charged with providing independent, objective advice to American policy makers on matters related to science and technology. 

The Academy announced the election of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 14 countries today, in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Otto has won international acclaim for her work in applying mathematical models to understanding how species evolve. Last year, she dedicated the funds from her MacArthur 'genius grant' toward preserving fragile habitats in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia.

Otto analyzes how factors including mating system, genome composition, population size and ecology are able to channel evolutionary transitions in certain directions but not others. For example, Otto has shown that transitions from asexuality toward sexual reproduction are possible in populations of limited size but not of infinite size, as had been assumed in previous models. This work has helped to resolve the mystery of why most animals and plants reproduce through sexual means.

UBC biochemist and Nobel Laureate Michael Smith (1932 – 2000) was elected to the Academy in 1996. Thirty other Canadians have been elected.

The 2013 cohort brings the total number of active members to 2,179.

The National Academy of Sciences, established in 1863, is a private, nonprofit honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Since 1863, the National Academy of Sciences has served to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government.

UBC biochemist and Nobel Laureate Michael Smith was elected to the Academy in 1996. Thirty other Canadians have been elected.

Chris Balma
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