The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Crafoord Prize for 1993 to: Professor Seymour Benzer, California Institute of Technology, USA, for his pioneering genetical and neuropsychological studies on behavioral mutants in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster; and Professor William D Hamilton, University of Oxford, England, for his theories concerning kin selection and genetic relationship as a prerequisite for the evolution of altruistic behavior. The Crafoord Prize (SEK 2,6 million, divided equally between the prizewinners) will be awarded on the Crafoord Day, September 28, 1993.
Behavior: Genetics and Evolution
Behavior are a multidimensional phenomenon and investigations in behavioral genetics and evolution can start from various aspects: the observation and registration of behavior in different organisms (ethology), analyzing genetic variation in behavior within a species, finding direct physiological and neurological causes for a specific behavior, or working out models for its long-term evolutionary background. The prize-winners represent two diametrically opposite approaches to tackling these questions: the experimental approach, starting from specific variants of behavior in a genetically well-defined organism; and the theoretical approach of building models for genetic evolution of social behavior and altruism.
Seymour Benzer was born in New York City on October 15, 1921, studied Physics at Brooklyn College and Purdue University, and in 1949 came to California Institute of Technology where, inspired by Max Delbrück, he changed his research subject to molecular biology and virus genetics. After some ten years of prosperous research on the fine structure of genes he again turned to new problems, this time the relationship between genes and behavior.
Darwin considered altruism as a threat to his entire theory, but it was not until a century later that W. D. Hamilton solved this dilemma with a simple as well as genial model. His innovation was to dislocate our conception of the focus for selection from individual to gene level.
His model build on the fact that, in organisms with sexual reproduction, relatives share genes in proportion to their kinship. Parent – offspring and full sibs have 50% shared genes, half sibs and ancestor-descendant with one intervening generation have 25%, cousins 12.5% and so on.
The social insects among the Hymenopterans have exceptional genetic relationships, which, in accordance to Hamilton’s Rule, favor the genesis of communities based on helpers and kin co-operation, but helping behaviors are not unknown in other animals. Hamilton has in later works extended his models to include other forms of co-operative behavior and his creativeness has also resulted in evolutionary models for several other phenomena; theories about senescence, sex-ratios, parasites and pathogens as driving forces in the mate choice of animals and even for sex itself. He tackles the basic questions in evolution and his theories have provided guidance for almost all evolutionary aspects of modern ecology and ethology.
Common to this year’s prize-winners is that their outstanding and thought-provoking approach to their subjects has initiated new and prolific research concerning the genetic mechanisms governing the diverse behavior among animals.