Wen-Hsiung Li

2003 Balzan Prize for Genetics and Evolution

Wen-Hsiung Li has made seminal contributions to the field of evolutionary molecular genetics. He has developed widely used methods for inferring phylogenetic relationships and has made important discoveries about the rate of genetic change in different groups of animals.

Wen-Hsiung LI, born in Ping-Tung, Taiwan, on 22 September 1942, is a US citizen and a citizen of Taiwan. He is at present George Beadle Professor at the  University of Chicago (since 1998), Member of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (since 2003), Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1999) as well as Academician of the Academia Sinica, Taiwan (since 1998).

After his MS in Geophysics from the National Central University, Taiwan (1968), and his PhD in Applied Mathematics (1972) from Brown University, Providence, RI, USA, he held the following positions:
Project Associate, Medical Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison (1972-1973);
Assistant Professor of Population Genetics (1973-1978), Associate Professor of Population Genetics (1978-1984) at the Center for Demographic and Population Genetics, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston;
Professor (1984-1998), Betty Wheless Trotter Professor in Medical Sciences (1996-1998) at the Human Genetics Center, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Among his numerous professional activities he has, for the past few years alone, been President of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (2000), Editor of Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution since 1991, and Associate Editor of Journal of Molecular Evolution since 1998. He is also on the editorial board of Mathematical Biosciences (since 1990) and many other important scientific journals, and is an Academic Advisor for a number of prestigious institutes such as the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany (since 2000), and the Institutes of Zoology and of Botany (since 1997) of the Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

His indefatigable activity in scientific societies include his membership in the American Society of Human Genetics (life member since 1972), Society for the Study of Evolution (life member since 1973), Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (since 1983), Society of Systematic Biology (life member since 1990) and Genetics Society of America (1972-1998).

Among his most important articles, published also together with co-workers, are the following:

  • Li, W.-H. Maintenance of genetic variability under mutation and selection pressures in a finite populationProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 74: 2509-2513 (1977);
  • Li, W.-H. Simple method for constructing phylogenetic trees from distance matricesProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 78: 1085-1089 (1981);
  • Wu, C.-I and W.-H. Li. Evidence for higher rates of nucleotide substitution in rodents than in manProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 82: 1741-1745 (1985);
  • Li, W.-H. and M. Tanimura. The molecular clock runs more slowly in man than in apes and monkeysNature 326: 93-96 (1987);
  • Wolfe, K.H., P.M. Sharp and W.-H. Li. Mutation rates differ among regions of the mammalian genomeNature 337: 283-285 (1989);
  • Shimmin, L. C., B. H.-J. Chang and W.-H. Li. Male-driven evolution of DNA sequences. Nature 362: 745-747 (1993);
  • Li, W.-H., Z. Gu, H. Wang, and A. Nekrutenko. Evolutionary analyses of the human genomeNature 409: 847-849 (2001);
  • Makova, K.D. and W.-H. Li. Strong male-driven evolution of DNA sequences in humans and apesNature 416: 624-626 (2002);
  • Gu, Z., L. M. Steinmetz, X. Gu, C. Scharfe, R. W. Davis, and W.-H. Li. Role of duplicate genes in genetic robustness against null mutations. Nature 421: 63-66 (2003).


  • Fundamentals of Molecular Evolution, with D. Graur, Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts (1991);
  • Molecular Evolution, Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts (1997).

(October 2003)

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