This year’s Harry Smith Prize, which recognizes the best paper published in the field of molecular ecology by an early career scholar, has been awarded to Arne Jacobs at the University of Glasgow. Jacobs led the 2021 paper “Alternative splicing and gene expression play contrasting roles in the parallel phenotypic evolution of a salmonid fish,” published as the cover article of the October 11, 2021 issue of Molecular Ecology. Jacobs and his mentor Kathryn Elmer demonstrated, in part, that populations of Arctic char have evolved different alternative splicing of key genes involved in replicated divergence into benthic and pelagic ecotypes. As the award committee, Alison Nazreno and Kaichi Huang, noted in their decision letter,
Alternative splicing plays an important but largely neglected role in phenotypic change and adaptation. In this context, Arne’s article provides meaningful insights and analytical approach into diverse mechanisms underlying adaptive divergence. By strikingly linking distinct types of analyses and lines of evidence, the work leading by Arne highlights the role of alternative splicing in adaptive evolution, contrasting the more commonly studied gene expression. Notably, Arne’s approach showed that mechanisms such as splicing and expression underlie the divergence of different phenotypic axes. As a consequence, this paper will contribute to a shift of molecular ecology studies toward a more holistic view of transcriptome, looking deeply into the mechanisms for evolutionary change and regulation of biological processes through complimentary ways.
Dorant’s winning article is available Open Access at the Molecular Ecology website.
The award committee also recognized two “outstanding nominees” as second and third runners-up: Angel G. Rivera-Colón and Jana Wold, respectively. Rivera-Colón led another “From the Cover” article in Molecular Ecology, presenting a software package to simulate RADseq data for protocol optimization; and Wold led a synthetic review of the potential value in considering structural genomic variants in conservation genomics.