Eske Willerslev

2023 Balzan Prize for Evolution of Humankind: Ancient DNA and Human Evolution

For his studies on human DNA with an evolutionary perspective focusing on population mobility and migrations and thus to a large extent contributing to transform our understanding of human history. For leading the way in using ancient DNA (from teeth) to identify human pathogens and for retrieving DNA directly from environmental samples, opening a new scientific field.

Eske Willerslev, born in 1971, is a Danish evolutionary geneticist notable for his pioneering work in molecular anthropology, palaeontology, and ecology.

He currently holds the Prince Philip Professorship in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Cambridge, UK, and the Professorship in Evolution at Copenhagen University, Denmark. He is director of the Centre of Excellence for Ancient Environmental Genomics (CAEG) and of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre at the University of Copenhagen, as well as a professorial fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge.
After spending his youth as an explorer and fur trapper in Siberia, he established the first ancient DNA laboratory in Denmark and obtained his DSc at University of Copenhagen in 2004, followed in 2019 by a second DSc from Cambridge University.

At the age of 33, Willerslev became Full Professor at the University of Copenhagen – the youngest in Denmark at the time. Willerslev has been visiting researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Centre in Austin, Texas, and independent Wellcome Trust Fellow at Oxford. He is foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, and honorary doctor at the Universities of Oslo and Tartu. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Oxford University and a Miller Visiting Professor at UC Berkeley.

He has more than 200 peer-reviewed papers (first publication 1999), of which more than 40 are published in the journals Nature and Science.

Among his most important recent publications:

Willerslev, E., et al., 2020. Population genomics of the Viking world. Nature 585, 390-396. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2688-8. (cover)

Willerslev, E., et al., 2019. The population history of northeastern Siberia since the Pleistocene.
Nature, 570(7760):182-188. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1279-z.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2018. 137 ancient human genomes from across the Eurasian steppes. Nature, 557, pp. 369-374. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0094-2.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2018. Terminal Pleistocene Alaskan genome reveals first founding population of Native Americans. Nature, 553(7687), 203-207. DOI: 10.1038/nature25173.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2018. The prehistoric peopling of Southeast Asia. Science The prehistoric peopling of Southeast Asia. Science, 361(6397), 88-92. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3628.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2018. The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia. Science, 360(6396), p.eaar7711. DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7711. (cover)

Willerslev, E., et al., 2018. Early human dispersals within the Americas. Science 362(6419), eaav2621, DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2621.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2017. Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers. Science,358(6363), 659-662. DOI:10.1126/science.aao1807.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2016. Postglacial viability and colonization in North America’s ice-free corridor. Nature 537, 45-49. DOI:10.1038/nature19085.

Willerslev, E., et al., 2015. The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man. Nature, 523(7561),455-458. DOI:10.1038/nature14625.

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