Wolf Prize Laureate in Agriculture 2016
Trudy Frances Charlene Mackay
Affiliation at the time of the award:
North Carolina State University, NC, USA
“For pioneering studies on the genetic architecture of complex traits and the discovery of fundamental principles of quantitative genetics with broad applications for agricultural improvements”.
It is now well recognized that the majority of traits of economic importance in animal and plant breeding (and traits related to most human diseases as well) are influenced by a large number of genes acting in complex regulatory networks. Trudy Mackay was among the first to realize this and throughout her career has used quantitative genetics to provide fundamental insight in the complex interplay between genes acting on complex traits as well as in understanding the interaction with the environment. Moreover, she was among the first to realize that the rapid developments in genomics allowed the integration of quantitative genetics with molecular details of genes interacting within complex regulatory networks.
Early in her career she already recognized the many possibilities a novel model organism like Drosophila offers towards this end. She developed a number of clever strategies like the use of transposable P-elements and high resolution mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) by complementation testing in this model species. This allowed her to uncover fundamental genetic principles studying intriguing traits like life span, behavioral responses and alcohol tolerance. Principles proven to be applicable in a wide range of species and in areas from agriculture to human genetics. More recent, recognizing the possibilities whole genome sequence data would offer, she initiated the development of the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel, which has proven of invaluable importance to further unravel the architecture of complex genetic traits.
Trudy Mackay has been a key person in building the intellectual framework for modern quantitative genetics and she has explained these principles in numerous excellent reviews and by contributing to the major textbook in the field, “Introduction to Quantitative Genetics” by Falconer and Mackay. More recently she has been pioneering the concept of system genetics and enabled the first whole genome analysis using genomic selection, a fundamental tool that has revolutionized animal breeding. Combining genomic information with genomic selection is expected to further revolutionize improvement programs in animal as well as plant breeding.