Sarah (Sally) Otto is a theoretical biologist, author, and the director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. She was named a 2011 MacArthur Fellow. In 2015 the American Society of Naturalists gave her the Sewall Wright Award for fundamental contributions to the unification of biology.
Otto's research focus is a multi-pronged approach of population-genetic mathematical models and statistical tools to understand how evolutionary processes generate diverse biological features. The core of her research revolves around analyzing mathematical models and exploring the insights they yield about how biological systems evolve. Through the analysis and development of stochastic models, Dr. Otto’s colleagues and herself have shown how genes are transmitted across generations, the context in which genes are expressed, and how evolutionary constraints influence life trait evolution. The second major component of Dr. Otto’s research involves the development of statistical tools such as likelihood-based approaches that allow them to infer how particular traits influence speciation and extinction. This allows us to answer questions such as: Do pollinators promote speciation of colorful flowers? Does genome size influence diversification? According to Otto, her research uses "mathematical models to clarify how features of an organism affect its potential for and rate of adaptation. I also step back to address why such features vary in the first place. Why is it that some species produce offspring primarily by cloning themselves, whereas others never do? Why do some species have large genomes with many chromosomes, while others are streamlined?” Otto's recent work has investigated the genomic changes that underlie adaptation by yeast to harsh environmental conditions.
- Sewall Wright Award (2015)
- Guggenheim Fellowship in Natural Sciences For Research (2011)
- MacArthur Fellowship For Research (2011)
- NSERC Steacie Prize (2007)
- Royal Society of Canada Fellow (2006)
- McDowell Award for Excellence in Research (2003)
- NSERC Steacie Fellowship (2001)
Since 2013 Otto has been the director of the Liber Ero Fellowship program, a post-doctoral fellowship program that supports early-career scientists to conduct and communicate research that informs conservation and management issues. In 2006 she co-founded the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution. She has also served as the Vice-President for The Society for the Study of Evolution, The American Society of Naturalists and The European Society of Evolutionary Biology as well as a council member of The Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Genetic Association.
- A Biologist's Guide to Mathematical Modeling in Ecology and Evolution, Sarah P. Otto & Troy Day, 2007, 752 pages, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-12344-8
- "MacArthur Fellows Program: Meet the 2011 Fellows". September 20, 2011. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
- "Sarah P. Otto". www.zoology.ubc.ca. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
- "Council of Canadian Academies | CCA | Fellow in Focus: Sarah P. Otto, FRSC". www.scienceadvice.ca. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
- "Sarah Otto — MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
- "Liber Ero Fellowship Program". Liber Ero Fellowship Program. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
- "CSEE – Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution". csee-scee.ca. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
- "Advisory Board". Evidence For Democracy. 2015-01-15. Retrieved 2017-03-01.