Professor Wins Prestigious International Prize

COLLEGE STATION, TX – Dr. Leif Andersson, a 2013-16 Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study (TIAS) Faculty Fellow from Uppsala University, Sweden, was chosen as a recipient of the 2014 Wolf Prize in Agriculture, the Wolf Foundation announced Thursday. Dr. Andersson will be sharing the award, and its $100,000 prize, with Jorge Dubcovsky of the University of California Davis, as they are both being honored for their use of cutting-edge genomic technologies that contribute to animal and plant research, respectively. The Wolf Prize is often referred to as equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Leif Andersson
Dr. Leif Andersson

“Dr. Andersson is highly deserving of the Wolf Prize in Agriculture,” said Dr. David Threadgill, professor and director of the Whole Systems Genomic Initiative (WSGI) at Texas A&M. “He is the leading geneticist using the latest genomic tools to reveal the genetic control of many important production traits in agricultural animals. There is no other scientist who has been as successful over the last 10 years as Dr. Andersson has been in studying many different species and traits.”

As a TIAS fellow, Dr. Andersson has been collaborating with faculty in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) since November 2013. His research involves comparing the genomes of many species of domestic animals to discover the molecular mechanisms and underlying traits that are important to human and veterinary medicine. Texas A&M University System Chancellor, John Sharp, who initiated the investment in TIAS, said, “We are all very proud of TIAS and specifically, Dr. Andersson. His work will influence the future of sustainable food production for the entire world.”

Dr. Andersson analyzes interbreeding among species of domestic animals to identify the genes and mutations that affect specific traits. This research has led to the development of genomic and marker-assisted selection as a means to identify breeding stock with specific useful and economically important characteristics. These advances in livestock selection have replaced the more classic selection methods based on visible traits, and are an essential contribution to sustainable feeding of a growing world population.

“I congratulate Dr. Andersson being awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize. His breakthrough work in genomic technologies is an example of the positive impact that he and our Texas A&M University faculty are having on Texas, the nation, and the world,” said Dr. Mark Hussey, interim president of Texas A&M University.

One area of Dr. Andersson’s research with potential crossover to humans is his work on the genetic basis of muscle physiology and motor coordination in horses. This has led to insights into how their genes affect their gait. These discoveries may also have important implications for human diseases such as cerebral palsy.

“We are excited about Dr. Andersson’s recognition as a recipient of the Wolf Prize in Agriculture,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “His international reputation and expertise in functional genomics, combined with the world-class genomics faculty already in place at the CVM, will be integral in fostering innovative One Health collaborations and leading-edge discovery. Special thanks to TIAS and to our university leadership, who provided the opportunity to bring these world-renowned scholars to our campus.  This effort, led by Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp and directed by Dr. Junkins, has provided a wealth of opportunity to Texas A&M and to the communities we serve.”

The new Wolf Prize laureates will receive their awards in May from the president of Israel and Israel’s minister of education during a ceremony at the Knesset Building (the seat of Israel´s Parliament) in Jerusalem. “I am extremely proud to be recognized with an international prize of this dignity,” Dr. Andersson said
. Five or six Wolf Prizes have been awarded annually since 1978 to outstanding individuals in the fields of agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics, and the arts. According to the Wolf Foundation’s website, a total of 253 scientists and artists from 23 countries have been honored to date. This year, five prizes were awarded to eight individuals in four countries. Dr. Andersson is the fourth agriculture winner of the Wolf Prize associated with Texas A&M: Dr. Perry Adkisson won in 1995, Dr. James Womack in 2001, and Dr. Fuller Bazer in 2002.

“This recognition of the excellence of his work is also reflective of the overall quality of the stellar talent TIAS is attracting as Faculty Fellows,” said Dr. John Junkins, distinguished professor of aerospace engineering, and founding director of TIAS. “Each year, TIAS is bringing the finest academics in the world to Texas A&M for collaboration with our faculty and students.  Of the first fifteen scholars that TIAS has brought to Texas A&M two have won the Nobel Prize, one has been awarded the National Medal of Science, and now one has been awarded the Wolf Prize. Indeed, we are delighted by the ongoing contributions to our programs by all fifteen of the highly distinguished scholars attracted to date as TIAS Faculty Fellows.”

The prizes are given by the Wolf Foundation, which was established in 1975 by Dr. Ricardo Wolf, a German-born inventor, diplomat, and philanthropist, who lived the last few years of his life in Israel. The winners are chosen by international prize committees made up of experts in each field.

“We are extremely fortunate to be hosting Dr. Andersson as a TIAS fellow in our department, where he is a delightful and inspiring colleague,” said Dr. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, associate dean for undergraduate education, professor, and head of the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at the CVM. “Dr. Andersson works across a broad range of species; this and his extraordinary powers of observation have been of tremendous value to faculty and students in the college.”

Dr. Andersson directed the Animal Genetics component of the Nordic Centre of Excellence in Disease Genetics (NCoEDG) that was in operation until 2011 and his research group has done pioneering work in this field. NCoEDG involved investigators from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden working in five Nordic Universities pooling their expertise, methodological power, and resources to study the genetic background of metabolic syndrome, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and colon cancer. Dr. Andersson’s expertise in animal model development and experience with multi-institutional collaborative research in NCoEDG can provide exceptional insights as the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences positions itself to become a major contributor to the WSGI and the One Health program.

A world-renowned scientist who has published more than 330 scientific articles and has received six patents and filed applications for two more, Dr. Andersson has mentored 25 students to doctorate or professional degrees. He has also been uniquely elected to four major scientific royal societies in Sweden (Royal Swedish Society for Agriculture and Forestry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala and the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund) and was recently elected as a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Andersson has received numerous other prizes: the Thureus Prize in Natural History and Medicine from the Royal Society of Sciences, the Linneus Prize in Zoology from the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund, the Hilda and Alfred Eriksson’s Prize in Medicine from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the Olof Rudbeck Prize from Upsala Medical Society.