Gordon honored for microbiome research

Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, has been honored with awards from the National Academy of Sciences and the Association of American Medical Colleges for his pioneering research to define the human gut microbiome.

Gordon is the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology.

He is one of 18 individuals recognized by the National Academy of Sciences and is the recipient of the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology. The award, supported by the Foundation for Microbiology, includes a $5,000 prize.

Gordon and the other award recipients will be honored April 28 in a
ceremony during the academy’s 150th annual meeting in Washington.

Gordon also was honored recently by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) with the 2012 Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences.


Gordon’s research centers on how the tens of trillions of microbes in the human gut and their millions of genes shape our physiology, metabolism and nutritional status. His work ultimately could aid global efforts to combat a variety of diseases, including obesity and malnutrition.

He and his team have developed and applied new and powerful experimental and computational approaches to characterize the assembly and dynamic operations of our human gut microbial communities.

Curious to determine the role of gut bacteria in obesity, Gordon and his colleagues discovered that gut microbiomes were different in lean versus obese mice, and in lean and obese twins. A “eureka” moment came when Gordon and his team transplanted microbial communities from obese and lean mice into adult mice without previous exposure to microbes.

These “gnotobiotic” mice that received microbial communities from obese donors gained more fat than those that had lean donors, even though all recipients were given the same diet.

More recently, Gordon and his group have turned their attention to the role of the gut microbiome in childhood malnutrition in impoverished countries, focusing on twin pairs in which one or both are severely malnourished.

His findings “have major implications for human nutrition, emphasizing that the nutrient and caloric value of foods are not absolute terms, but rather values that are influenced by the gut microbiomes of consumers,” says Larry Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

Gordon’s research on the genomic and metabolic foundations of mutually beneficial host-microbial relationships in the human gut has helped create a new field of research, called metagenomics.

“His leadership in the field has been instrumental in launching human microbiome projects throughout the world,” Shapiro says.

Gordon, who has served on the School of Medicine faculty for more than 30 years, received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and his medical degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.