Hanna Kokko receives Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Theoretical evolutionary biologist at Mainz University receives Germany’s highest endowed research prize

22 May 2023

Theoretical evolutionary biologist Professor Hanna Kokko of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship in a festive ceremony in Berlin. The professorship, which is one of Germany’s highest endowed research prizes, was presented to her by Professor Sabine Döring, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and Professor Robert Schlögl, President of the Humboldt Foundation. Kokko is one of the world's leading specialists in her field and relocated to Mainz University from the University of Zurich on 1 January 2023 as a result of receiving the Humboldt Professorship. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awards up to ten professorships to top level international researchers every year in order to bring them to German universities for the long term. Researchers in theoretical disciplines awarded such a professorship are granted EUR 3.5 million over the first five years that they are free to use to establish their research team and obtain the equipment and facilities they need. When nominating a candidate, the universities also submit a concept on how they intend to continue to fund the professorship after this period.

"The successful appointment of Professor Kokko is already the second time within just a few years that we have been able to enhance our Faculty of Biology by means of the recruitment of an eminent Humboldt Professor," added Professor Georg Krausch, President of JGU. "Her expertise and worldwide visibility will promote our research in the field of the life sciences, a particularly topical discipline that will be of central relevance to fostering our competitiveness in coming years." Back in 2017, the award of a Humboldt Professorship brought molecular biologist Professor Peter Baumann, originally based at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Kansas City, USA, to Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

Hanno Kokko's research focuses on achieving a better understanding of the interplay between evolutionary and ecological factors. For this purpose, she uses computer-based model calculations to uncover the rationale behind evolutionary processes. Her pioneering contributions to core issues of evolutionary biology, such as the evolution of sexual reproduction and cooperative behavior, have helped to decisively shape her discipline over the long term. Professor Hanno Kokko's appointment represents a significant step forward in JGU's strategy of strengthening and expanding the field of life sciences, which experienced thorough restructuring in recent years. Kokko's research at the point of transition between theory and empiricism will foster interdisciplinary collaborations at various interfaces between theoretical and empirical approaches in biology, bioinformatics, and medicine.

Hanna Kokko was born in Finland in 1971 and held a Professorship for Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Zurich from 2014 to 2022. She obtained her doctorate at the University of Helsinki in 1997, where she also received an award for thesis. During her academic career, she held positions at the University of Cambridge, the University of Glasgow, the University of Jyväskylä, and the Australian National University. In 2007, she was invited to become a lifelong member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. She has been a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science since 2014 and an International Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science since 2020.