John Maynard Smith

1991 Balzan Prize for Genetics and Evolution

For his powerful analysis of evolutionary theory and of the role of sexual reproduction as a critical factor in evolution and in the survival of species; for his mathematical models applying the theory of games to evolutionary problems.

John Maynard Smith (2004) began his work in the field of genetics, and in particular on the relationship between genetics and evolution, under the guidance of J.B.S. Haldane in London in 1950.

In 1958 he published a highly influential book (The Theory of Evolution, Penguin Books) in which, while stressing the essential points of Mendelian genetics, he discussed wider aspects such as the genetic structure of populations and the origin of the principal animal groups.

After genetic research on Drosophila subobscura, Maynard Smith mainly devoted himself to the theory of phenomena related to sexuality as a mode of reproduction. He considered, for example, the advantages of bisexuality as compared to parthenogenesis. Such strategies contribute to the maintenance of certain genotypes in a population homogeneously constituted by a species or a race. These theoretical aspects, developed in many original scientific papers, were discussed in the volume The Evolution of Sex (Cambridge University Press) in 1978, which represents an outstanding synthesis.

The interest of Maynard Smith in evolution led him in 1982 to organize a book entitled Evolution Now which contains a most interesting analysis of the theory of evolution and its mechanisms, one century after Darwin. Maynard Smith has made important contributions to the development of useful mathematical models and demonstrated the power of applying the quantitative theory of games to evolutionary problems.

In dealing with controversial issues, Maynard Smith has always expressed a balanced view. He maintains an inspiring influence on colleagues and students throughout the world.

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