Acceptance Speech – Bern, 11.11.2005


Peter e Rosemary Grant

2005 Balzan Prize for Population Biology

Peter and Rosemary Grant are distinguished for their remarkable long-term studies demonstrating evolution in action in Galápagos finches. They have demonstrated how very rapid changes in body and beak size in response to changes in the food supply are driven by natural selection. They have also elucidated the mechanisms by which new species arise and how genetic diversity is maintained in natural populations. The work of the Grants has had a seminal influence in the fields of population biology, evolution and ecology.

Federal Councillor,
Presidents of the Balzan Foundation,
Members of the Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Being chosen for an award by the internationally renowned Balzan Foundation is an extreme honour, and something very, very special.

It is special because, alone among the Foundations which I know, the Balzan Foundation makes funds available to young researchers in the field of the recipient. This is particularly appropriate in our case. Our research over the last 33 years has centered on a related set of questions in one place, the Galápagos archipelago, and may be likened to an edifice built on volcanic rock. Seven young scholars helped us build the foundations: three post-doctoral fellows and four graduate students. Now, three decades after they helped us build our foundation, the Balzan Foundation enables us to help another generation of young scholars build theirs.

The second reason for being delighted to receive this prize is that it is an affirmation of the research we have chosen to conduct in the fields of population biology and evolution. Rather than tread a beaten path we have blended the ecological discipline of field biology with methods of genetics to reveal the power and frequency of natural selection as a cause of evolution; and have done so in the same environment that inspired the young Charles Darwin. Darwin believed that evolution would be manifest only with the passage of vast amounts of time. Now it is apparent that evolution happens in our lifetime, and sometimes very fast.

The third and most personal reason to be so gratified at sharing the prize with Rosemary is that it endorses the possibility of a husband and wife working together, equally, as a team, without regard to individual advancement and recognition. In receiving the prize jointly we hope this will be an encouragement to other couples who might wonder whether they will be able to conduct scientific research in tandem rather than solo.

Conscious of the list of distinguished scholars who have been similarly recognized I accept my share of the award of the Balzan Prize in population biology for the year 2005, with great pleasure, gratitude and humility.

Peter R. Grant

Federal Councilor,
Presidents of the Balzan Foundation,
Members of the Balzan Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

To be the recipient of the 2005 Balzan Prize for Population Biology is a great honor and one for which we are profoundly grateful. It is also a great personal pleasure to receive this award in Switzerland, because the stimulating months we spent at the University of Zürich meant much to us, and left us with many fond memories and enduring insights.

It is a particular privilege to receive this honor from a Foundation whose aim is “to foster on a world-wide level, culture and science, outstanding humanitarian causes, and peace and brotherhood among people regardless of nationality, race or creed”.

These are noble aims and ones that resonate with us because one of the most persistent lessons we have learned through our collaborations with scholars in many countries is that inter-cultural communication, whether between people from different ethnic backgrounds or between people from different scientific disciplines, bring with it a tremendous depth of understanding, respect and wisdom.

While it is often said that we cannot choose our parents or ethnicity, we can choose our friends, and a common interest can overcome barriers of race, religion, age and socioeconomic status. The rewards of an interchange of ideas and information between cultures are immense, much about the systems of inequality that plague us today are revealed, and we see more clearly the strengths and imperfections of our own and other cultures. Therein lies our hope for imaginative and ingenious solutions to the problems of today.

In our own research, collaboration with colleagues from a multitude of disciplines has worked synergistically and led to a fuller understanding of both the problem and the solution. By taking a multifaceted approach and using information from the fields of genetics, developmental biology, paleontology, behaviour and ecology we have collectively been led to exciting discoveries, which are contributing to a more mechanistic understanding of how evolution has produced the diversity of organisms we see in the fossil record and in the world around us today.

I am grateful to the Balzan Foundation for recognizing and celebrating the value of scholarship, and deeply grateful for the wonderful opportunity this prize gives to young research scholars of the future. It is foundations, such as the Balzan Foundation, with its wisdom in fostering inter-cultural and inter-generational exchange that will, surely, make tomorrow’s world a better and a more humane place.

B. Rosemary Grant

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