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Thursday, October 13
SESSION 41 – ASHG William Allan Award Presentation
Room 210, Level 2, Convention Center
The William Allan Award is presented annually by
ASHG to recognize substantial and far-reaching
scientific contributions to human and medical
genetics, carried out over a lifetime of scientific inquiry
and productivity. A monetary award and an engraved
medal will be presented to the award recipient.
Maximilian Muenke
John M. Opitz
Univ. of Utah Sch. of Med., USA
John M. Opitz, MD, became a U.S. citizen in March
1951, six years after his introduction to developmental
biology, genetics, endocrinology and to evolution by
Emil Witschi in Iowa City. In medical school, Hans
Zellweger and Jackie Noonan taught him the art and
science of phenotype analysis at a time (1959) of
revolutionary advances in medical genetics.
After a fellowship with Drs. Patau and Smith
(University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dr. Opitz devoted
some decades to the analysis of abnormal human
development in genetic, developmental and
evolutionary terms. The “simple” example of causal
heterogeneity of specific malformations observed in
clinic, coupled with lessons learned in Witschi’s 1954
vertebrate embryology course, allowed him to
rediscover the developmental field concept (first
enunciated most clearly by Spemann, Nobel Prize,
1935, on the basis of experiments in amphibians) and,
apparently for the first time, to introduce it into human
developmental biology. With a passionate interest in
evolutionary history and biology, and on the basis of
Owen’s concept of homology, Dr. Opitz was also able
to identify these morphologic units of the embryo
(”fields”) as the evolutionary units of the species
(”modules” in modern terminology).
“Clinical paleontology,” on the basis of clinically
mutant genes, normally present in all branches of life,
has even allowed beginning reconstruction of the last
universal common ancestor (LUCA) of animal, plants,
fungi, bacteria and archaea. His enthusiasm for
developmental biology and medical genetics, and his
deep compassion for his patients and their families,
has allowed Dr. Opitz the profound satisfaction of
Cameras and all other recording devices are
strictly prohibited
in all session rooms. Thank you for your cooperati
recognizing daily the footprints of evolution in clinic
and at autopsy, now so easily confirmed molecularly
Syndromes are not studied by Dr. Opitz solely for th
sake of syndromes, name recognition or material ga
but rather to reconcile parents to the perfectly natur
nature of their child’s condition (Meckel 1822: Die
ursprünglichen Bildungsfehler sind nicht wieder die
Natur: Primary malformations are not contrary to
nature). With a profound commitment to the ethical
nature of the practice of medical genetics, Dr. Opitz
feels privileged to relearn on a daily basis the lesson
his youth: All living organisms are related, equally
deserving of reverent study and gratitude for
“revealing” to us the biological nature of their
individuality, its development in ontogeny and
As genetic coordinator of the fetal genetic/pediatric
pathology program at the University of Utah, Dr. Opi
feels humbly grateful to participate with gifted junior
colleagues in exploring and shaping methodologicall
this last frontier of human genetics and biology.
For a list of past award winners, visit the ASHG We
site at