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Tavaré Elected to the Royal Society

USC Dornsife's Simon Tavaré, a pioneer in the field of computational biology, has been honored with the highest distinction a British scientist can receive.

USC Dornsife’s Simon Tavaré, whose research is in the interface between statistics, probability, and biological and medical sciences, is among 44 newly elected fellows and eight foreign members to the Royal Society. Photo by Phil Channing.
USC Dornsife’s Simon Tavaré, whose research is in the interface between statistics, probability, and biological and medical sciences, is among 44 newly elected fellows and eight foreign members to the Royal Society. Photo by Phil Channing.

Simon Tavaré, George and Louise Kawamoto Chair in Biological Sciences in USC Dornsife, has been named a fellow of the Royal Society.

Tavaré, whose research is in the interface between statistics, probability, and biological and medical sciences, is among 44 newly elected fellows and eight foreign members. Membership in the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, is the highest distinction a British scientist can receive.

“For more than 20 years, Simon has been an invaluable member of USC Dornsife’s biological sciences and mathematics faculties,” said Howard Gillman, dean of USC Dornsife. “This latest honor once again recognizes the profound effect his pathbreaking work has had on the field of molecular and computational biology.”

Since arriving at USC in 1989, Tavaré has focused his research on the application of statistics and probability theory to problems arising in molecular biology, human genetics, population genetics, molecular evolution, cancer biology and bioinformatics. One of the pioneers in the field of computational biology, he has made key contributions in statistical bioinformatics and in the development of evolutionary genomic approaches for understanding cancer. His most well known work centers on the use of DNA sequence data to trace the lineage of a cell, an individual or a species back through time.

“I am extremely honored to have been elected a fellow of the Royal Society. I am fortunate to work in an environment that has been very supportive of my research, in a field with challenging and interesting problems to address,” said Tavaré, who received the Royal Society’s Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2003.

Tavaré is the principal investigator of the Center of Excellence in Genomic Science (CEGS) at USC, which received a five-year, $12.1 million grant renewal from National Institutes of Health in 2009. Under his leadership, the CEGS at USC is investigating the process by which genotypic variation translates into phenotypic variation.  The group hopes to create a unified picture of how different genetic variants interact with the environment to influence aspects of human disease.

“Since he was a graduate student, Simon has been focused on statistical aspects of genetics, and this led to his fundamental work in mathematics, statistics and genetics,” said University Professor Michael Waterman, who directed the CEGS at USC from 2003 to 2008.  “USC’s program in computational biology would not have reached its current level without his efforts. He is a great colleague!”

Together Tavaré and Waterman co-authored, along with Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences Richard Deonier, Computational Genome Analysis: An Introduction (Springer Verlag) in 2005. In addition to having numerous papers published in top scientific journals each year, Tavaré also co-authored Logarithmic Combinatorial Structures: A Probabilistic Approach (European Mathematical Society, 2003) with Professor of Mathematics Richard Arratia and co-edited Progress in Population Genetics and Human Evolution (Springer, 1997).

Tavaré is currently an associate editor of Annals of Applied Statistics, Annals of Human Genetics, Journal of Computational Biology, and Statistics Surveys. He serves on the editorial boards of CaPR (Cancer Prevention Research), MathematicS In Action, Human Genomics and Evolutionary Bioinformatics Online.

In addition to his work at USC, Tavaré has been a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge since 2003. He is also professor of cancer research (bioinformatics) in Cambridge’s Department of Oncology and senior group leader in the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, where his research focuses on cancer genomics.

A native of England, Tavaré earned a B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D. in probability and statistics from the University of Sheffield. Before moving to USC, he taught at the University of Utah and Colorado State University. He has also held visiting appointments at institutions around the world including Monash University in Australia; Université Blaise Pascal in France; Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden; the University of Zürich in Switzerland; Stanford University in California, and Queen Mary University of London in England.

Tavaré is an elected fellow of the United Kingdom’s Academy of Medical Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the Society of Biology, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the American Statistical Association.

As a member of the Royal Society, Tavaré joins the ranks of the UK and Commonwealth’s leading scientists, counting themselves among fellows such as Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Charles Darwin and R.A. Fisher.

“The society aims to expand the frontiers of knowledge by championing the development and use of science, mathematics, engineering and medicine for the benefit of humanity and the good of the planet,” said Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society. “It is the contribution of excellent individuals such as these which makes this possible.”