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Tomoko Ohta (太田 朋子 Ōta Tomoko?, born September 7, 1933, Miyoshi, Aichi) is a Japanese scientist working on population genetics/molecular evolution. She graduated from the Agriculture Department of the University of Tokyo in 1956. She worked at an editorial publishing company before she was hired at the Kihara Biological Institute. There, her work focused on the cytogenetics of wheat and sugar beet. In 1962 an opportunity provided by Hitoshi Kihara to study abroad in the U.S. became available. While a graduate student at the Graduate School of North Carolina State University, she switched her graduate study focus from plant cytogenetics to population genetics with the help of her advisor, Ken-Ichi Kojima, whom she eventually became a student of. She assisted Kojima in working on problems in stochastic population genetics. She obtained her Ph.D. from North Carolina State University in 1966. Because she had studied abroad as a Fulbright student, she was only able to stay in the United States to finish her PhD. Returning to Japan, she worked under Motoo Kimura, whom was the only theoretical population geneticist in Japan at the time. After working on the neutral theory of evolution with her mentor Kimura, she became convinced that nearly neutral mutations (neither deleterious nor entirely neutral) played an important role in evolution. She developed the slightly deleterious model (Ohta, 1973), then a more general form, the nearly neutral theory of evolution. She worked at the Japanese National Institute of Genetics from 1969 to 1996, and, in 2002, she was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate in evolutionary biology.
Reactions to Ohta's Nearly Neutral Theory
When Ohta first published her Nearly Neutral theory, she faced difficulty in attracting the scientific research community's attention. Many researchers at the time strongly supported the natural selection theory. Supporting data in protein evolution was sequentially collected in the 1990s, with even more evidence supporting her theory made available throughout the 21st century.
- 1984 - Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 1985 - Japan Academy Prize
- 2002 - Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences
- 2002 - Person of Cultural Merit
- 2015 - Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (shared with Richard Lewontin)
List of books available in English
- Theoretical aspects of population genetics, Motoo Kimura and Tomoko Ohta (1971)
- Evolution and variation of multigene families, Tomoko Ohta (1980)
- Population genetics and molecular evolution: papers marking the sixtieth birthday of Motoo Kimura, edited by Tomoko Ohta and Kenichi Aoki (1985)
- Tomoko Ohta and the Nearly Neutral Theories: The role of a female geneticist in the neutralist-selectionist controversy, Tomoko Y. Steen (1996) Ph.D. Dissertation. (CORNELL UNIVERSITY)
- Ohta, Tomoko, Tomoko Ohta 22 (16), pp. R618–R619, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2012.06.031
- "National Institute of Genetics: OHTA, Tomoko - Professor Emeritus". NIG. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
- Steen, TY. 2008 "The Case of Ohta Tomoko: A Woman Geneticist in the Neutralist-Selectionist Evolution Controversy." Historia Scientiarum, volume 18(2), pages, 172–184.
- "National Institute of Genetics Feature: Our Leaders in Genetics". NIG. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
- Ohta, T. (1973). "Slightly deleterious mutant substitutions in evolution". Nature 246 (5428): 96–98. doi:10.1038/246096a0. PMID 4585855.
- Ohta, T. and Gillespie, J.H (1996). "Development of Neutral and Nearly Neutral Theories". Theoretical Population Biology 49 (2): 128–142. doi:10.1006/tpbi.1996.0007. PMID 8813019.
- Ohta, T. (2002). "Near-neutrality in evolution of genes and gene regulation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 (25): 16134–16137. doi:10.1073/pnas.252626899. PMC 138577. PMID 12461171. Inaugural Article, 
- Steen, TY. (2008). "The Case of Ohta Tomoko: A Woman Geneticist in the Neutralist-Selectionist Evolution Controversy". Historia Scientiarum. 18(2): 172–184. 
- Steen, TY. (1996). "Always an excentric?: A Brief Biography of Motoo Kimura". Journal of Genetics. 75(1): 19–25.