UCLA’s James A. Lake Wins Prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London


Home / UCLA’s James A. Lake Wins Prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London

Prof. James Lake – UCLA Mol, Cell & Dvlmt Bio – 090608

On May 24th Dr. Lake, a distinguished Professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology as well as  human genetics at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and a researcher with NASA’s Astrobiology Program, was honored for his major advances in evolutionary biology.  “It is a special honor for an American to win this medal,” which has been given only 42 times since 1908, says a Linnean Society spokesperson.

Fundamental studies on the evolution of life at UCLA

Some of Lake’s accomplishments include a new animal phylogeny based on genomic analysis, discovery of a number of previously unidentified operational genes, identification of a new root of life through analysis of insertions and deletions called ‘indels’ within paralogous gene sets and development of the “complexity hypothesis” to help explain how horizontal gene transfer works.

Lake and his colleagues at UCLA recently reported an ancient endosymbiosis between clostridia and actinobacteria that eventually led to double-membraned or Gram-negative, bacteria.  “The endosymbiotic invention of periplasm provided a new type of prokaryotic architecture that set the stage for formation of an oxygen-rich atmosphere and the emergence of eukaryotes organelles,” Lake says. Researchers at the Lake laboratory are also busy studying the evolution of eukaryotes from prokaryotes, particularly one line of archaea called Crenarchaeota, or “eocytes,” and the origin of multicellular animals.

Research at NASA Helps Explain Helps Explain How Life Might Evolve in Alien Environments

Lake investigates how life might evolve off-Earth in collaboration with scientists at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Ames Research Center. There he focuses on the origins of functional proteins and early metabolic evolution. His work clarifies the principles underlying the origins of life by revealing important molecular, genetic, and biochemical mechanisms driving evolution and metabolic diversity.

The Linnean Society of London

Darwin-Wallace Medal Image by the Linnean Society

Named for Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), The Linnean Society of London was founded in 1788 and is the world’s oldest active organization devoted exclusively to natural history. The Darwin-Wallace Medal commemorates the reading of a joint paper by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace “On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties: and the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection” and was first awarded in 1908.

Lake is, of course, delighted with his award, and was ”impressed by the ceremony”  but especially taken with the President’s crocodile chair and funny hat.

Read more about James Lake’s research at Microbe magazine.

Suggested reading:

Lake, JA: Evidence for an early prokaryotic endosymbiosis in Nature (2009); 460; pp.967-971.

Lake JA, Skophammer RG, Herbold CW, Servin JA: Genome beginnings: rooting the tree of life in Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci (2009);364:2177-2185.

Cox CJ, Foster PG, Hirt RP, Harris SR, Embley TM: The archaebacterial origin of eukaryotes in PNAS (2008); 105; pp. 20356-20361.

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