Through early work on sequence comparison, RNA structure comparison, and RNA structure, David Sankoff launched the bioinformatics field's strong emphasis on fast algorithms with a provable performance guarantee. Sankoff’s algorithm was a crucial advance in this area. He is recognized as one of the founders of the field of bioinformatics and is the co-author of the first bioinformatics book.
Sankoff completed his BSc, MSc, and PhD at McGill University. He spent three decades focused on the structure of genomes, specifically working on how to identify chromosome-level transformation when comparing distantly related species. He also wanted to understand how he could use it as a marker in predicting evolutionary trees of species.
In his lab at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Mathematical Genomics, his group has focused on tools for studying gene order evolution. These tools include mathematical and computational technology to explore how to infer the gene order in ancestral genomes given a phylogenetic tree representing evolutionary divergence of a set of genomes. The tools he had developed have led to probabilistic modelling of the evolution of bacteria, protists, and higher organisms. Recently, he applied his algorithms to analyze genome histories of coffee, pineapple, and other plants.
In addition to his CRC, he was awarded the following honours:
- 1st recipient of the International Society for Computational Biology’s Senior Scientist Award
- Oxford University’s Weldon Prize for advances in mathematical or statistical methods for biology
- Fellow of the Royal Society
- Fellow of the International Society for Computational Biology
- Member of CIFAR
On Friday, June 14, Sankoff will receive an honorary doctorate at the Faculty of Mathematics at Convocation. He also holds an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University.