José Sarukhán Kermez: Biography, Contributions, Awards

José Sarukhán Kermez (1940) is a Mexican biologist, researcher and academic who has dedicated his life to defending the planet’s biodiversity. His scientific work has focused on the ecology of plant populations, conservation of ecosystems, as well as the sustainable development of the population.

He has been a winner of international awards and recognitions due to his intense work of more than 40 years of experience; besides being a university professor and writer of books dedicated to the ecological subject.


José Aristeo Sarukhán Kermez was born on July 15, 1940 in Mexico City. His parents were Harutiun Sarukhanian and Ángela Kermez, immigrants from Turkey and Armenia who arrived in Mexico in the 20s of the 20th century.

Sarukhán was a lover of reading since he was a child and very close to nature due to his seven years of experience as a boy scout.

In his interviews, he comments that he chose to study Biology because it was the career that in his youth was closest to Neurobiology, a field that still attracts his attention.

Sarukhán and his sister were teenagers when their father died, leaving the family in difficult financial conditions. Despite this, his mother always encouraged him to continue his studies and advance in his life projects regardless of the adverse circumstances that arose.


He studied Biology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) dedicating his thesis to the ecological phenomenon of succession in the jungles of Tuxtepec, State of Oaxaca.

In 1968 he completed a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Botany at the Chapingo Postgraduate College, with a thesis aimed at analyzing humid forests.

In 1972 he obtained a doctorate in Ecology from the University of Wales, Great Britain, from where he graduated with his research on the study of plant populations.

Professional life

From the beginning of his career, Sharukhán Kermez became a professional dedicated to assuming the leadership of most of the organizations linked to his field of academic research and development.

In 1972 he served as President of the Botanical Society of Mexico.

In 1979, he was elected Director of the UNAM Institute of Biology, a position he held until 1985. During his tenure, he created the Department of Ecology, which would eventually become the current Institute of Ecology.

In 1986 he left this position after being called to the Coordination of the Academy of Scientific Research, today the Mexican Academy of Sciences, where he remained until 1988.

During his tenure in this organization, he actively participated in the creation of the National System of Researchers.

In 1987 he was elected a member of El Colegio Nacional, an organization that groups together the most outstanding scientists, writers and artists in Mexico. Its corresponding inaugural lecture was entitled Biological Dimensions: Ecological and Evolutionary Time.

Professional challenges

He was elected rector of the UNAM for two consecutive periods between 1989 and 1996, a responsibility that Sarukhán himself describes as an honor and a privilege.

In 1992 he served as National Coordinator of the Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, which was born by presidential decree to be Mexico’s proposal at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

This project has become over time one of the most important ecological organisms in the world.

In 2000 he obtained the position of Commissioner for Social and Human Development in the presidential cabinet, where he remained until 2002.

In 2014 he was elected president of the National Council for Social Participation in Education.

Parallel to his activity in favor of the environment, Sarukhán developed an intense work as an academic and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Metropolitan Autonomous University, the Organization of Tropical Studies of Costa Rica, in other prominent institutions.


Sarukhán has published more than 190 scientific papers, in addition to books, with the aim of extending his ecological knowledge and making a conscience call to world leaders and the general population.

Among his published texts are:

– Tropical trees of Mexico (1972) published co-authored with Terence Pennington.

– Manual de Weeds of the Valley Mexico (1997) co-authored with Francisco Espinoza.

– Darwin’s Muses (2013)

– Climate change. Causes, effects and solutions (2016) co-authored with Mario Molina and Julia Carabias.

Awards and honours

His work in the study and defense of the environment have made him worthy of awards and recognitions around the world. Here are some of them:

– 1979. National Forestry Award of Mexico.

– 1984. Botanical Merit Medal, awarded by the Botanical Society of Mexico

– 1988. Alfonso L. Herrera Medal in Ecology and Conservation.

– 1985. Prize of the Academy of Scientific Research.

– 1990. National Prize of Sciences and Arts in the area of ​​Physical-Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

– 2006. Appointed Emeritus Researcher by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

– 2007. Semina Motum Award.

– 2008. John C. Phillips Medal, awarded by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

– 2009. Award for the Best Lecture of the Year by the University of Chiba, Japan.

– 2011. Eduardo Neri Medal of Civic Merit, awarded by the Chamber of Deputies of Mexico, for his scientific contributions to the nation.

– 2011. Decoration of the Orange Nassau Order, presented by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

– 2012. Named Full Member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences.

– 2012. Malinalli National Award, awarded by the Autonomous Juárez University of Tabasco.

– 2014. Appointed Honorary Academician by the Mexican Academy of the Language.

– 2014. Medal of Merit from the UNAM Foundation.

– 2016. NatureServe Conservation Award, “for her expertise in plant biology and ecology, student mentoring, and extraordinary dedication to public service”

– 2016. Champions of the Earth Award, delivered by the United Nations.

– 2017. Tyler Award for the Use of the Environment.

– Doctor honoris causa from the University of Colima and the La Salle University of Mexico.

– Doctor honoris causa awarded by: Universidad Nacional Mayor San Marcos de Lima, Peru; University of Wales of Great Britain, University of New York and Autonomous University of Hidalgo, among other houses of study.

– Honorary Vice President of the Association of Seas of Mexico.

– Honorary Coordinator of the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.

– Honorary President of the Anglo-Mexican Cultural Institute.

He is currently a member of local and international associations including the Academy of European Sciences, the Academy of Sciences of the Third World, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States and the Royal Society of London, among other scientific-academic organizations.

Personal life

In 1962 he married Adelaida Casamitjana Vives, whom he met during her biology studies at UNAM. She is the mother of her two children: Adelaida and Arturo, who came to serve as Mexican ambassador to the United States.

To the rescue of biodiversity

In his speeches, Sarukhán insists that the deterioration of biodiversity is as serious as climate change, due to the excessive loss of plant and animal species.

He states that this situation has been caused mainly by the growth of the human population that has tripled since 1950, in addition to the excessive expenditure of resources.

It explains that, due to today’s lifestyle, a person born in the United States today consumes 16 times more energy, water or food than someone born in that same country in 1900.

For Sarukhán, the biodiversity rescue strategy should be aimed at creating an environmental culture and disseminating it, in addition to a rapid government intervention in accordance with the problem.


  1. Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. (2016). Dr. José Aristeo Sarukhán Kermez. Taken from
  2. Yureli Cacho. (2015). José Sarukhán, First doctor in Ecology in Mexico. Taken from
  3. Bulletin UNAM-DGCS-833. (2016). José Sarukhán obtained the highest award from the United Nations in environmental matters. Taken from
  4. Gerardo Villafranco. José Sarukhán, the Mexican who won the ‘Nobel for the environment’. Taken from mx
  5. Advisory Council of Sciences. (2019). José Sarukhán Kermez. Taken from
  6. Editors The National College. (2019). Members. Taken from
  7. Twenty-first Century Publishers. (2005). Education and Inequality. An educational policy for social cohesion. José Sarukhán Kermez. Taken from

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