Waterman Awarded Prestigious Dan David Prize

University Professor Michael Waterman will share the $1 million prize with two other leaders in bioinformatics.
Susan Bell

USC Dornsife’s Michael Waterman has been awarded the internationally renowned Dan David Prize, it was announced on Feb. 10.

Widely regarded as the founding father of computational biology, Waterman, University Professor and USC Associates Chair in Natural Sciences, won the distinguished academic prize for his seminal and influential contributions to biological sequence analysis.

“I am pleased that our colleague, University Professor Michael Waterman, has been recognized with this prestigious award,” said Michael Quick, interim university provost. “Research involving big data and the human genome has recently become one of the nation’s leading scientific priorities, and Michael’s influential work has been well ahead of this movement.”

USC Dornsife Dean Steve Kay called Waterman, professor of biological sciences, computer science and mathematics, a trailblazer in the field of computational biology.

“Applying techniques from mathematics, statistics and computer science to molecular biology, Professor Waterman epitomizes the success that can come from taking a convergent approach to research,” Kay said.

Waterman’s research concentrates on the creation and application of mathematics, statistics and computer science to molecular biology, particularly to DNA, RNA and protein sequence data. He is co-developer of the Smith-Waterman algorithm for sequence comparison and of the Lander-Waterman formula for physical mapping, fundamental algorithms used for the mapping of human sequence information in the human genome project.

Inaugurated in 2001 and named after the international businessman and philanthropist, the Dan David Prize is endowed by the Dan David Foundation and headquartered at Tel Aviv University. The award recognizes and encourages innovative and interdisciplinary research that cuts across traditional boundaries and paradigms.

The prize recognizes human achievement in three areas: the past (fields that expand knowledge of former times); the present (achievements that shape and enrich society today); and the future (breakthroughs that hold great promise for improvement of our world). Each year an international board chooses one field within each time dimension. The three prizes of $1 million for each time category go to individuals or institutions that have made an outstanding contribution to humankind through “proven, exceptional and distinct excellence in the sciences, arts and humanities.”

Waterman shares the prize in the future time dimension category in the field of bioinformatics with Cyrus Chothia, an emeritus scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and director of the Genomics Institute at University of California, Santa Cruz.

“Israel has top scientists working in bioinformatics, and I am very happy to be awarded this prize,” Waterman said.

An elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, Waterman has received many awards and honors during his distinguished career that includes more than 30 years at USC Dornsife.

He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and International Society of Computational Biology. Having received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Friendship Award from the Chinese government, he is also an elected foreign member of the French Académie des Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Waterman will be honored along with fellow laureates at an award ceremony at Tel Aviv University on May 17, 2015. The Dan David Prize recipients donate 10 percent of their prize money to graduate students in their respective fields, thereby contributing to the community and fostering a new generation of scholars.

The 2015 winners include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who is being honored in the present time category for launching the world’s largest online encyclopedia. Previous recipients of the prize include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.