Each year with the Overton Prize, the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) recognizes the outstanding achievements of an early to mid-career scientist who has made a significant contribution to the field of computational biology. The 2019 laureate is SIB’s Group Leader Christophe Dessimoz, an SNSF Professor at the University of Lausanne in the field of comparative genomics.

“It's hard to think of any biological discovery that does not involve bioinformatics these days,” told us Christophe in a recent interview looking back on his 2012 SIB Early Career Bioinformatician Award. Today, some seven years later, he receives the ISCB Overton Prize, honoring a career that took him from ETH Zurich to the EMBL-EBI and the University College London, before coming back to Switzerland at the University of Lausanne and SIB, where he leads the Laboratory of Computational Evolutionary Biology (see his full biography).

“It’s a wonderful honour for my team and me” says Christophe about receiving the Overton Prize, whose previous awardees include Aviv Regev (MIT), Ewan Birney (EMBL-EBI), or Curtis Huttenhower (Harvard). “I have tremendously benefited from the dynamic research environment in Switzerland, which is at the leading edge of Computational Biology worldwide” he adds.

The main focus of Christophe’s group is the study of evolutionary and functional relationships among genes across many species. To this end, the team develops bioinformatics methods and resources – such as OMA, the orthology database and an SIB Resource – and applies them in collaboration with experimentalists.

In addition to recognizing Christophe’s innovative methods and resources, the ISCB announcement highlights his sustained contributions to benchmarking – an aspect which is increasingly recognized as crucial for progress in the booming ecosystem of bioinformatics tools and resources. Benchmarking will be the central theme of Christophe’s keynote presentation at the 2019 International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology/ European Conference on Computational Biology (ISMB/ECCB) in Basel, tentatively entitled: “Challenges and rewards of benchmarking – how to cope with a biased, incomplete, or even entirely missing ground truth”.