Published: Aug. 9, 2017 By

Distinguished Professor Emeritus Norman Pace of CU Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) has been awarded the 2017 Massry Prize for his microbiome research. Pace will share the award and the $200,000 honorarium with Rob Knight of the University of California San Diego and Jeffrey Gordon of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Norman Pace

Distinguished Professor Emeritus Norman Pace

Pace, Knight and Gordon are leaders in a field that works to produce a detailed understanding of microbiomes—the distinct constellations of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live within and around us—and methods for manipulating microbiomes for the benefit of human and environmental health.

The Meira and Shaul G. Massry Foundation established the Massry Prize in 1996 to recognize outstanding contributions to the biomedical sciences and the advancement of health. The nonprofit foundation promotes education and research in nephrology, physiology and related fields.

Shaul Massry, MD, is Professor Emeritus at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California, and the Massry Prize Lectures, which the winners give every year, are held on the USC Health Sciences campus. Twelve Massry Prize recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

Pace is largely credited with developing the methods that are now used to see the biosphere in full, having pioneered the molecular methods that comprehensively survey microbial populations in their own habitats, without the need to isolate and culture individual species. He and his research team have applied these methods to examine microbial ecosystems found in many unusual, and in some cases, previously inaccessible natural settings such as hot springs, ocean floor sea vents, coastal salt ponds, arctic ice, and the pore space inside rocks found deep within the earth’s crust.

“I’m delighted that the Massry Award this year goes to microbiome research. The work brings microbiology into an entirely new era,” Pace said. “I’m so pleased to be included among the recipients.”

In 2001, Pace was appointed a fellow of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In addition, he is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has received a number of awards, including the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society for Microbiology, the 2008 Lifetime Achievement in Science Award from the RNA Society, the 2008 Tiedje Lifetime Achievement Award in Environmental Microbiology from the International Society for Microbial Ecology and the 2001 Selman A. Waksman Award for Distinguished Contributions in Microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences, which is the nation’s highest award in microbiology. 

“Much of the human experience depends on microbes and their products—bread, beer, yogurt, etc.—not to mention diseases and contributions to our own wellbeing,” Pace said. “It is remarkable, therefore, that the microbial world, upon which all life on Earth depends, receives such limited attention from the public, including the education system. Consequently, it is rewarding to see attention drawn to the microbial world through the efforts of the Massry Foundation.”

“There is the natural world that we can see with our eyes, like the flies, the mice and the trees, that we biologists love to study. Then there is the ‘invisible’ world of microbes. Norm showed us a way to see worlds of very small creatures that are all around us and influence our daily lives. We are so proud to have him as a colleague,” said Tin Tin Su, professor and chair of MCDB.

The 2017 Massry Prize will be awarded on Saturday, Oct. 7, during a ceremony in Beverly Hills, California.