Sarah (Sally) Otto – 2023 Killam Prize

Natural Sciences

University of British Columbia

Sarah (Sally) Otto is a Killam Professor and CRC Tier 1 Chair at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Otto is known for her theoretical studies investigating how the very nature of organismal inheritance and reproduction evolve, using mathematical models to investigate the selective forces acting on genetic systems. These studies have produced the mathematical foundation for the leading theory on the evolution of sexual reproduction in nature and have illuminated the evolutionary forces structuring genomes.

Complementing this approach, Dr. Otto’s group tracks yeast as they evolve to test evolutionary theories. Recent work, both theoretical and experimental, has focused on evolutionary dynamics in a rapidly changing world. During the pandemic, she has been a co-leader of the BC COVID-19 modelling group and CoVaRR-Net’s ‘computational biology and modelling’ pillar. Dr. Otto’s research has resulted in 200 publications and a book, with ~25,000 citations. Awards include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Steacie Fellowship and Steacie Prize, the Sewall Wright Award (American Society of Naturalists), the Darwin-Wallace Medal (Linnean Society of London), and fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Otto was co-founder of the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution and has served on the Species at Risk Advisory Council to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada. To support and develop future leaders in conservation, Dr. Otto launched and directs the Liber Ero program, a Canadian-wide post-doctoral program.

Dr. Otto has served as founding member and Secretary of the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution, President and Vice President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, Vice President of the American Society of Naturalists, and the European Society of Evolutionary Biology, Council member for the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Genetic Association, and member of several editorial boards.

Tune in to listen to Dr. Otto’s interview with CBC’s Gloria Macarenko to learn more about her research.


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