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David Reich, Harvard Medical School, received the 2019 NAS Award in Molecular Biology.

Reich has pioneered techniques to study ancient DNA to trace ancient human migrations. His work has revealed how population mixtures shaped modern humans and illuminated disease risk factors across populations.

Reich started the first cutting-edge laboratory for studying ancient human DNA in the United States. Founded in 2013, the lab has already collected genome-wide data on more than 6,000 ancient humans and has produced more than half the world’s published human ancient DNA data. 

The work has generated numerous important discoveries, including revealing that “white people” are not a long-standing group and instead only came into being in the last 8,000 years through mixture of populations as different from each other as Europeans and East Asians; showing that migration from the Steppe spread languages and cultures across Eurasia; and documenting repeated waves of migration into the Americas, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. 

Reich has also studied archaic Neanderthals and the Denisovans, who he and others discovered in 2010 through ancient DNA. He led the work documenting repeated episodes of interbreeding between archaic and modern humans. 

A major discovery that has emerged from Reich’s work is the ubiquity of major mixture in the human past. 

A recurrent observation is the existence of “ghost populations”—populations that we can infer must have existed based on the mixture they have left behind in present-day people but that have no unmixed descendants today. Several ghost populations Reich and his collaborators have predicted have been found in the last few years with ancient DNA. 

Through all of his work, Reich harnesses new techniques and his discoveries in population history as a tool for understanding human health, including exploring strategies for searching for previously unknown recessive diseases in India, and uncovering new risk factors for prostate cancer in African Americans. 

The NAS Award in Molecular Biology is supported by Pfizer Inc. and recognizes a recent notable discovery in molecular biology by a young scientist (defined as no older than 45) who is a citizen of the United States. The award is presented with a medal and a $25,000 prize.

Links

Watch Awards Ceremony April 28, 2019 »

Press Release »

NAS Award in Molecular Biology »

2019 NAS Award Recipients »

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