Dr. Uri Alon
Named as ISCB 2004 Overton Prize Winner
International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) has announced
that Uri Alon, senior scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science
in Israel, will receive the 2004 Overton Prize.
"Uri Alon epitomizes the spirit of the Overton Prize. Despite
being in a relatively early stage of his career, he has made significant
contributions to computational biology, particularly in the areas
of network motifs and the design principles of biological networks,"
said Larry Hunter of the University of Colorado Health Sciences
Center, chair of the ISCB Awards Committee.
The Overton Prize was established by the ISCB in memory of G. Christian
Overton, a major contributor to the field of bioinformatics and
member of the ISCB Board of Directors who died unexpectedly in 2000.
The prize is awarded for outstanding accomplishment to a scientist
in the early- to mid-stage of his or her career who has already
made a significant contribution to the field of computational biology
through research, education, service, or a combination of the three.
The prize will be awarded at the ISCB's annual meeting, Intelligent
Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) to be held in conjunction with
the European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB), in Glasgow,
Scotland, from July 31 to August 4. Alon will deliver the annual
Overton keynote lecture, entitled "Design principles of biological
networks," at 08:30 on August 4 at this summer's conference.
Alon received his PhD in theoretical physics from the Weizmann Institute,
where he studied statistical mechanics and hydrodynamics. During
Alon's graduate studies he became intrigued by the biological sciences
after reading a biology textbook. Subsequently, he headed for his
postdoctoral studies at Princeton determined to learn experimental
"It was like a thriller with miracles on each page!" Alon
said. "It was nothing like physics, where matter just sits
there--biology is matter that dances, machines that effortlessly
self assemble, function perfectly in the noisy chemical soup of
the cell, and then dissolve when not needed." He credits Dov
Shvarts of the Negev Nuclear Research Center, David Mukamel of The
Weizmann Institute, and Stan Leibler of the Rockefeller University
for providing significant career guidance and inspiration.
Since 2000, Alons lab at Weizmann has studied gene regulation
networks experimentally and theoretically, using E. coli and mammalian
cell-lines as model systems. His research employs accurate, high
temporal-resolution measurement of gene expression from living cells
and mathematical modeling to discover the design principles of biological
networks. This led to the definition of "network motifs,"
recurring circuit patterns in biological networks, and experimental
demonstration of their information-processing functions.
"Biological networks pose a challenge to science that has never
yet been addressed--understanding a system with thousands of heavily
interacting components, none of which can be neglected. This at
first blush seems impossible," said Alon. "But the fact
that these networks evolved to function appears--to us optimists
at least--to have a surprising side-effect: it makes their structure
understandable to human beings."
"If we manage to understand these networks, and the basic principles
that make them tick, it will be the first time science has comprehended
a truly complex natural system. This may open up possibilities for
understanding complex networks of the type that occur in the tough
and crucial sciences of the 21st century, such as ecology and sociology."
Among his most recent publications this year are the Dynamics
of the p53-Mdm2 feedback loop in living cells, in Nature Genetics
and Super-families of evolved and designed networks,