Public Release: 

The American Society for Microbiology honors Stephen J. Giovannoni

American Society for Microbiology

Washington, DC--June 6, 2012 Stephen J. Giovannoni, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Microbiology, Oregon State University, has been honored with the 2012 USFCC/J. Roger Porter Award. This award recognizes outstanding efforts by a scientist who has demonstrated the importance of microbial biodiversity through sustained curatorial or stewardship activities for a major resource used by the scientific community. It honors the memory of J. Roger Porter and his remarkable contributions to science. Giovannoni is honored for "more than a decade of leading the field of marine microbiology in successfully bridging the divide between culture-based and culture-independent studies, with a foot solidly in both camps," says nominator Norman Pace, University of Colorado.

Giovannoni received his B.A. in biology from the University of California, San Diego, where his first experience with bacteria was raising cells and isolating photosynthetic reaction center proteins for physicist George Feher. He then earned his M.A. in biology from Boston University, where he studied under Lynn Margulis, and continued on to the University of Oregon to receive his Ph.D. in biology. Here he worked with Richard Castenholz to isolate and describe novel thermophilic bacteria from Yellowstone National Park. After graduating, he joined Pace's research team (then at Indiana University) to develop molecular techniques for studying microbial ecology, where Pace says Giovannoni participated in "the earliest culture-independent forays into the natural microbial world of the oceans."

Giovannoni next accepted a faculty position at Oregon State University, where he remains today. His research focuses on microbial diversity, genomics, and ecology in oceanic ecosystems. "As he established his own lab, he was the first to use PCR with universal sequencing primers to conveniently access environmental rRNA genes," explains Pace. Giovannoni developed PCR methods to clone rRNA genes from microbial communities and identified many cosmopolitan, uncultivated bacterioplankton clades. Following up on this work, his research team focused on the Sargasso Sea. They described in rich detail the seasonal patterns and stratification of planktonic microbial communities, including a group of proteobacteria that became known as SAR11. "His work on the SAR11 clade--the most abundant group of bacteria in the global ocean--has served as a model for marine bacterial physiology, ecology, and evolution, including novel growth strategies such as genome reduction," describes David Karl, University of Hawaii. Kenneth Nealson further explains, "the cultivation and characterization of the Pelagibacter group [a member of the SAR11 clade], has had a huge impact on our understanding of marine microbiology. His approach was to use comparative genomic approaches to characterize these organisms, probing the nature of their ability to thrive in the nutrient-limited ocean. His papers on genome streamlining are classics in the field--only someone with Giovannoni's background and insight could accomplish this."

In 2000, Giovannoni founded the High Throughput Culturing Laboratory (HTCL) at Oregon State University with the aim of culturing globally important marine bacterioplankton. New technologies developed by the HTCL led to the successful cultivation of many oligotrophic strains of bacteria and more than 27 genome sequences. In 2011, his research team reported that SAR11 likely share a common ancestor with mitochondria. Their current research is focused on understanding SAR11 metabolism, and how these cells interact with marine dissolved organic carbon.

In addition to his teaching duties, Giovannoni serves as a Founding Editor for Annual Reviews of Marine Science and Associate Editor for The ISME Journal and Environmental Microbiology. His outstanding contributions have been honored with many awards, including the Gilfillan Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Science, the Milton Harris Award for Exceptional Achievement in Microbiology and Sugihara Young Faculty Research Award from Oregon State University, and the Emerging Scholar Award from Phi Kappa Phi. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

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To view Dr. Giovannoni's biosketch, please visit: http://www.asm.org/index.php/awards-grants/current-usfccj-roger-porter-award-laureate.html

The USFCC/J. Roger Porter Award will be presented during the 112th General Meeting of the ASM, June 16 - 19, 2012 in San Francisco, California. ASM is the world's oldest and largest life science organization and has more than 40,000 members worldwide. ASM's mission is to advance the microbiological sciences and promote the use of scientific knowledge for improved health and economic and environmental well‐being.

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