|Alma mater||McGill University (BSc, MSc, PhD)|
|Thesis||Historical Linguistics as a Stochastic Process (1969)|
|Doctoral advisor||Donald Andrew Dawson|
David Sankoff (born December 31, 1942) is a Canadian mathematician, bioinformatician, computer scientist and linguist. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Mathematical Genomics in the Mathematics and Statistics Department at the University of Ottawa, and is cross-appointed to the Biology Department and the School of Information Technology and Engineering. He was founding editor of the scientific journal Language Variation and Change (Cambridge) and serves on the editorial boards of a number of bioinformatics, computational biology and linguistics journals. Sankoff is best known for his pioneering contributions in computational linguistics and computational genomics. He is considered to be one of the founders of bioinformatics. In particular, he had a key role in introducing dynamic programming for sequence alignment and other problems in computational biology. In Pavel Pevzner's words, "[ Michael Waterman ] and David Sankoff are responsible for transforming bioinformatics from a ‘stamp collection' of ill-defined problems into a rigorous discipline with important biological applications."
Sankoff published his first paper in 1963 while he was an undergraduate student in Mathematics at McGill University. Starting with his doctoral research, he developed mathematical formulations to a number of pivotal concepts in socio- and historical linguistics, including glottochronology, variable rules analysis (with Henrietta Cedergren), the linguistic marketplace and code switching.
After completing his Ph.D. in Mathematics, Sankoff began his academic career at the University of Montreal in 1969. In 1971, Sankoff became interested in molecular sequence comparison and devised the first quadratic-time variant of the Needleman-Wunsch algorithm for pairwise sequence alignment. In 1973, Sankoff and Robert Cedergren developed a joint estimation method for phylogeny and multiple sequence alignment of 5S ribosomal RNA, laying the algorithmic foundations of comparative genomics. In 1975, Sankoff and Václav Chvátal studied the behavior of the longest common subsequence problem on random inputs; the constants of proportionality arising in this study have come to be known as the Chvátal–Sankoff constants. In 1980, Robert Cedergen and David Sankoff created the first research group in bioinformatics at the University of Montreal. Sankoff's work in bioinformatics addresses RNA secondary structure, genome rearrangements, sequence alignment, genome evolution and phylogenetics.