Professor Gene Tyson A University of Queensland microbiologist will receive a coveted international award for distinguished contributions to microbiology research in August.

Professor Gene Tyson, of the UQ School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences has won the International Society for Microbial Ecology’s (ISME) Young Investigators Award 2016 which will be presented during ISME’s conference in Montreal, Canada later this year.

The award recognises early career microbial ecologists who have made significant contributions to this field.

Professor Tyson is the first researcher working in Australia to receive the award, although Professor Philip Hugenholtz, also of UQ, won the 2006 award while working at the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California.

“The ISME Young Investigator has only been awarded six times previously and is handed out with much fanfare at the ISME conference which is held every second year,” Professor Hugenholtz said.

“The two past awardees were from Cornell and CalTech giving you some idea of the calibre of the recipients.

“You can't apply for this award, you have to be nominated by your peers and my understanding was that Gene was independently nominated by multiple peers – incidentally I wasn’t one of them. 

“Gene's work is at the cutting edge of molecular microbial ecology- he's been a major driver of recovering and analysing microbial genomes directly from metagenomic datasets, and this is redefining our understanding of microbial ecology and evolution.”

ISME is the principal non-profit scientific society for the emerging field of microbial ecology - the study of microbes in the environment and their interactions with each other. 

Microbes are the tiniest creatures on Earth yet, despite their small size, they have a huge impact on people and the environment. An estimated 1 million species live on this planet, yet fewer than 4500 of them have been described. An average gram of soil contains one billion microbes representing probably several thousand species.

“It’s a tremendous honour to be receiving this award but, at the same time, it also demonstrates the outstanding work of my research team and collaborators, and the valuable contribution that the funding agencies and industry partners have made to my research,” Professor Tyson said.

“I am extremely grateful to the funders and supporters of my research who recognise the importance of understanding the fundamental and applied processes that microorganisms carry out around us every day.

“Studying how these microbial communities behave in the environment is central to our understanding of how they impact fragile ecosystems or play a significant role in future global warming.”

Professor Tyson’s extensive research includes investigating the structure and function of microbial communities in natural and engineered environments using high-throughput sequencing-based approaches to understand their ecology and evolution.

A Science honours graduate of UQ (1998), Professor Tyson subsequently completed a PhD at University of California Berkley and a postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He has authored more than three book chapters and 73 peer-reviewed scientific papers, including in high-ranking journals such as Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PLoS Biology, and Nature Communications which, combined together, have accrued more than 6800 citations to date.

This year he was appointed a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Focused Fellowship and last year he won the Australian Society for Microbiology (ASM) Frank Fenner Award. In 2013, Professor Tyson, who is also the Deputy Director at the Australian Centre for Ecogenomics in UQ, was awarded the 2013 UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award for studying the processes underpinning methane emissions from thawing permafrost in the northern hemisphere.

He holds several patents, teaches in several courses, and currently supervises or co-supervises 22 research higher degree students. He has graduated 11 PhD and 12 Honours students since 2011.

SCMB Head of School Professor Paul Young congratulated Professor Tyson on his outstanding achievement.

Watch this video for an example of Professor Tyson’s work.

Media: Professor Gene Tyson (+61 7 336 53829), g.tyson@uq.edu.au

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