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International Cosmos Prize

The Prizewinner 2016

Name Dr. Kunio Iwatsuki
Born on July 15, 1934
Nationality Japan
Title Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University
Director emeritus, Museum of Nature
and Human Activities, Hyogo

Reason for Awarding

Dr. Kunio Iwatsuki has conducted his research and education by consistently taking the approach of holistically clarifying what it means for life forms to be “alive.” While recognizing the need for further promotion of analytical biology, including molecular biology, which has seen dramatic development in recent years, Dr. Iwatsuki has been studying the biology of diversity to elucidate various life forms in an integrated manner since the 1970s. As such, while continuing to collect information using morphology and other traditional methodologies, he has worked on the compilation of various data on leaf development, reproduction, ecology and distribution, and fossils, in accordance with the development of biological analytical techniques. Furthermore, by combining a variety of biological information discovered by other researchers, Dr. Iwatsuki has worked on the integrated understanding of the relationship between mutual independence among various organisms and mutual relations between organisms and the environment. The concept that all living organisms on the earth collectively form a “spherophylon” (or “life system”) as a unit of life has been elaborated based on the results of these basic studies.

One specific example is his research on the phyletic evolution of gymnosperms and ferns, which plays a key role in understanding the evolution of terrestrial plants. This study—conducted by virtually just a single research team—clarified their genealogical relationships for the first time in the world in the early 1990s by also incorporating techniques of molecular phylogeny. These research findings deepened understanding of the significance of the biology of diversity among researchers even in other fields, greatly helping the establishment of the biology of diversity as a scientific discipline. Moreover, his attitude toward research, focusing on integrated perspectives, has proved particularly useful in fostering researchers of later generations. The plant systematics laboratories of Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo, both of which were led by Dr. Iwatsuki in the past, have produced a number of researchers. They are currently active in the forefront of not only systematics but also of other fields, which range very widely and include evolutionary developmental biology, ecology, paleobotany and conservation biology. Together with younger scientists who have received his guidance, Dr. Iwatsuki has made an extremely significant contribution to promoting the biology of diversity.

Meanwhile, he has steadily conducted fieldwork primarily in the Southeast Asian region, to clarify the diversity of plant species. Dr. Iwatsuki has also significantly contributed to scientific administration by conducting overseas academic surveys as part of international joint study programs. At the same time, he has been willing to accept international students from Asian countries. Even after these students earned their degrees and returned home, he has continued to provide support for them through joint research. It is encouraging to see his ex-students now actively working while taking the initiative in international research projects to figure out the biodiversity within their own countries.

In addition, based on the accomplishments of his biodiversity studies, he has greatly helped advance the preservation of wild plants. He has been a strong advocate of the importance of the role played by botanical gardens, which can make a wide range of contributions, from basic research on plant diversity to actual plant conservation practices. Worthy of special note is that when he served as President of the International Association of Botanic Gardens, he established its Asian Division, achieving success in building a network of botanical gardens in Asia.

As stated above, while continuing to explore biodiversity in an integrated manner, Dr. Kunio Iwatsuki has made a tremendous contribution to biodiversity preservation mainly in Asia. His outstanding accomplishments have made him truly deserving of being a laureate of the International Cosmos Prize, which upholds the basic principle of The Harmonious Coexistence between Nature and Mankind.


1957 Graduate from Department of Mathematics, Kyoto University
1963 Completed a Kyoto University Graduate School Doctorate Course
1965 PhD in Science Kyoto University


1972-1983 Professor, Faculty of Science, the Kyoto University
1981-1995 Professor, Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo
1983-1995 Director, Botanical Gardens, Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo
1995-2000 Professor, Faculty of Sciences, Rikkyo University
2000-2005 Professor, The Open University of Japan
2003-2013 Director, The Museum of Nature and Human Activities, Hyogo


1994 The Japan Academy Duke of Edinburgh Award
2004 The Botanical Society of Japan Prize
2007 Person of Cultural Merit
2009 The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star
2010 Robert Allerton Award
2010 life-time Achievement Award(International Pteridological Society)

Selected Papers

  • Iwatsuki, K. Taxonomy of the thelypteroid ferns, with special refrence to the species of Japan and adjacent regions I-III. Coll. Sci. Univ. Kyoto (B) 30-31 (1963-65)
  • Iwatsuki, M. Studies in the systematics of filmy ferns I. A note on the identity of Microtrichomanes. Fern Gaz. 11:115-124 (1975)
  • Iwatsuki, K. and M. Kato. Variation in ecology, morphology and reproduction of Asplenium sect. Hymenoasplenium (Aespleniaceae) in Seram, Indonesia. J. Fac. Sci. Univ. Tokyo III 14:37-48 (1986)
  • Iwatsuki, K. Hymenophyllaceae. In:K. U. Kramer and P. S. Green, eds., The families and Genera of Vascular Plants. Vol. 1. Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms. pp.157-163. Springer-Verlag, Berlin (1990)
  • Darnaedi, D. and K. Iwatsuki. Electrophoretic evidence for the orogin of Dryopteris yakusilvicola (Dryopteridaceae). Bot. Mag. Tokyo 103:1-10 (1990)
  • Lin, S. J., M. Kato and K. Iwatsuki. Diploid and triploid offspring of triploid agamosporous fern Dryopteris pacifica. Bot. Mag. Tokyo 105:443-452 (1992)
  • Hasebe, M., Omori, T., Nakazawa, M., Sano, T., Kato, M. and K. Iwatsuki. RbcL gene sequences provide evidence for the evolutionary lineageres of leptsporangiate ferns. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91: 5730-5734 (1994)
  • Ebihara, A., Iwatsuki, K., Ohsawa, TA.& Iwatsuki, K. Hymenophyllum paniense, a New Filmy Fern Species (Hymenophyllaceae) from New Caledonia. Syst. Bot.28:223-235 (2003)

Major Books

  • Flora of Thailand Vol. 3 Bangkok (1979 –89) (Coauthor)
  • Modern Aspect of Species University of Tokyo Press (1986) (Coeditor)
  • Flora of Japan Vol. I–III Kodansha (1993–) (Coauthor and coeditor )
  • Natural History of the Ferns University of Tokyo Press (1996)
  • Spherophylon―A New Concept of Biodiversity Iwanami Shoten, Publishers(1999)
  • Botany of Diversity Vols. 1, 2 and 3 University of Tokyo Press (2000) (Editor)
  • Talking about Biodiversity Today Kenseisha (2009)