Since Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution, researchers have wondered how new species originate and how much of a role chance plays in each organism’s development. Loren Rieseberg’s pioneering research with sunflowers is a key advance in scientists’ understanding of these fundamental problems.
Photo by Chris Meyer
“Dr. Rieseberg is the brightest star in the heavens in the field of plant evolution and someone who already is assured of leaving a lasting legacy upon the discipline.”
— Jonathan Wendel, professor and chair of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University
Although scientists disagree about what Rieseberg’s studies mean to large-scale evolution, they do unequivocally applaud both his methodology and results. Using what Jeffrey Palmer, IU Distinguished Professor of biology, calls “a fresh and extraordinarily wide range of theoretical and experimental approaches,” from classical cross-breeding to genomic mapping, Rieseberg “quickly brought sunflowers to the center of the evolutionary stage.”
That combination of creative insight and thorough methodology earned Rieseberg two of the most prestigious and coveted awards in his—or in the case of the latter, any—field. In 1998, he earned the David Starr Jordan Prize, an international award given once every three to four years to scientists “whose research contributions are likely to redirect the principal focus of their field.” In 2003, he was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius award,” a $500,000 prize given to just 24 individuals nationwide.
Although these and the other numerous awards Rieseberg has earned reflect his already eminent achievements, they hold the promise that his best work is yet to come.