UC San Diego News Center


Kyoto Prize Laureate and Evolutionary Biologist Masatoshi Nei to Speak March 18

Free talk at UC San Diego is open to public; local high school students to attend and meet the internationally-renowned scientist

Masatoshi Nei

As part of the annual Kyoto Prize Symposium, world-renowned evolutionary biologist Masatoshi Nei, Ph.D., will speak at the University of California, San Diego on March 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Price Center West Ballroom on campus. To register for the free talk, which is open to the public, please visit:

Nei is the recipient of the 2013 Kyoto Prize—Japan’s highest private award for global achievement—in “Basic Sciences.” He received the award in recognition of his research on the evolution of biological populations using quantitative analyses of genetic variation and evolutionary time.

As part of the Kyoto Prize Symposium, which is underwritten by the Inamori Foundation of Japan, Nei will visit UC San Diego to share his work with the campus and community members. In addition, UC San Diego will facilitate bringing high school students—many from underserved areas of the region—to campus with the goal of introducing a diverse student body to the university and the possibility of a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

“UC San Diego is honored to participate once again in the Kyoto Prize Symposium,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This international platform recognizes scientific progress and cultural advancement, while bringing together some of the world’s top scientists and artists to inspire our future leaders and innovators.”

As part of his talk, Nei will discuss his journey to making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of evolutionary biology and population genetics. With a desire to establish the discipline of evolutionary biology as an exact science based on molecular-level data, Nei developed mathematical theories and analytical methods to gain a quantitative understanding of the evolutionary phenomena. He developed what is now known as “Nei’s Genetic Distance,” which made it possible to estimate how long ago different biological populations branched off from common ancestors. He applied this technique to reinforce the “Out-of-Africa” theory that our human ancestors originated on the African continent and then spread around the globe. His analytical methods have contributed not only to evolutionary biology, but also to a broad range of other academic disciplines including ecology and conservation biology.

“Dr. Nei is one of the giants in the field of evolutionary biology,” said Bill McGinnis, dean of the Division of Biological Sciences who will serve as the master of ceremonies for the lecture. “He is a wide ranging scholar, deeply knowledgeable in many fields, who has creatively applied mathematics and statistical methods to make many novel and important discoveries in the biological sciences. For example, Dr. Nei and his colleagues provided the earliest solid genetic evidence that modern humans migrated out of Africa about 100,000 years ago to populate the rest of the planet.”

Currently, Nei serves as the director of the Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics and the Evan Pugh Professor of Biology at Pennsylvania State University. At 83, he is still working to probe the mysteries of evolution in biological populations, while at the same time providing guidance to budding young researchers.

The presentation is one in the three-part Kyoto Prize Symposium hosted jointly by UC San Diego, the University of San Diego, San Diego State University and Point Loma Nazarene University. In addition to Nei, this year’s Kyoto Prize Laureates include:

  • In “Advanced Technology,” Robert Dennard, an electronics engineer who invented dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which dramatically increased memory storage capabilities in telecommunications and computer technology. He will speak at San Diego State University on March 18 at 10 a.m.
  • In “Arts and Philosophy,” Cecil Taylor, a jazz musician who explored the possibilities of piano improvisation through free jazz. He will present at the University of San Diego on March 19 at 10:30 a.m.

Established by the Inamori Foundation in 1985, the Kyoto Prize strives to honor significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of humankind. The president of this nonprofit organization is Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus (retired) of Kyocera and KDDI Corporation.

The March 18 talk with Nei will take place in UC San Diego’s Price Center West Ballroom from 3:30-5 p.m. The presentation will be followed by a reception with light refreshments, providing an opportunity for students and other attendees to meet Nei. For more information and to register for the free symposium, please visit

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