When will BLAST get its Nobel Prize?

It’s Nobel Prize Season and there is inevitable speculation on who will get one. I have a negative prediction: The Prize will not be award to the creators of BLAST.

However, I think the creators of BLAST should get a Nobel Prize.

In terms of impact in the field, it’s undeniable that BLAST has been huge. These people created a verb! What modern biologist does not know what “blasting a sequence” means? The BLAST paper was, at one point, the most highly cited paper in history. The impact on physiology is undeniable.

Lipman and Gene Myers stand out for their contributions to the computational processing of biological sequences. (See how I phrased that in a Nobel Committee way).

I know, BLAST was built on previous work like FASTA; but (1) so is everything and (2) FASTA is also Lipman’s work so he can claim credit for that.

The other counterargument I’ve heard is that BLAST is mostly a method, but so was GFP (admittedly, a chemistry prize). One may argue that it was very cool that one could have a protein that fluoresced by itself, but the prize was awarded for the impact in the lab (does anybody believe that just the 1962 discovery of a jellyfish protein would have sufficed for a Nobel?)

The statistical and algorithmic ideas behind BLAST and other methods developed by these people are also very cool (the suffix array is one of those “how did it take so long for someone to think of this?” ideas) while solving a hard problem with a large number of applications.


Of course, this Prize would bring prestige to the whole field of computational and systems biology, which may seem very self-serving of me (my field gets a prize, so I get to bask in the glow).

On the other hand, I have often heard that systems biology is just physiology with computers. By this definition, eventually, a systems biology prize will have to be awarded or the prize renamed to “Noncomputational Physiology and Medicine”, which sounds weird.

BLAST was definitely one of the most largest advances in the field of physiology in the last few decades. For this reason, David Lipman and Gene Myers should get a Physiology and Medicine Nobel Prize.


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