Header Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal

Header Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal

The Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal recognizes excellence in published research on marine or freshwater algae. The award is presented every three years and consists of a gold-plated bronze medal and a $50,000 prize. The Smith Medal was established in March 1968 at the bequest of Helen P. Smith in memory of her husband, Gilbert Morgan Smith. Smith was a renowned botanist, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the first President of the Phycological Society of America. 

Takao Kondo, Designated Professor and Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Science at Nagoya University is the recipient of the 2015 Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal. 

Most organisms have a circadian, or biological, clock that controls responses to the natural lightdark cycle of the 24-hour day. This clock is what causes a person to have jet lag when they travel across the country or helps a plant know when to flower. Before the mid-1980s, though, most researchers thought that prokaryotes—the simple, single-celled organisms that lack a nucleus or other organelles—did not have such clocks. Since most prokaryotes have lifespans of less than a day, scientists reasoned that they did not need circadian clocks. That assumption was overturned, however, by the discovery that a type of photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria had such a biological mechanism. Kondo and his colleagues created a way to study the clock by genetically engineering the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus to glow through bioluminescence. The glow, they found, oscillated robustly in the circadian period (about 24 hours) even under constant conditions. 

Kondo then developed a computer-based system that allowed him to monitor the rhythms of thousands of those glowing cyanobacteria, which let him identify clones that had mutated clocks. By studying those mutants, Kondo was able to identify three genes—kaiA, kaiB and kaiC—that control the circadian clock system of cyanobacteria. Kondo then demonstrated how this simple timepiece works by mixing the three Kai proteins and ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the molecule cells use to transport energy) in a test tube to reconstitute the circadian clock. In later studies, Kondo and colleagues showed that these proteins can tick a time by using a tiny amount of ATP. The oscillation of Kai proteins play key roles in the regulation of cyanobacterial gene expression and metabolism and also give the cyanobacteria a fitness boost. The knowledge that simple bacteria have biological clocks has led to a transformation in how scientists think about the mechanism of the biological clock and the ecology of these organisms, which sit at the base of the ocean food web.


Takao Kondo (2015)
For demonstrating the occurrence of circadian clocks in prokaryotes, leading through genetic dissection to the discovery of the central bacterial clock genes, kaiABC, and to a new way of thinking about algal ecology.

John B. Waterbury (2012)
For the discovery and characterization of planktonic marine cyanobacteria, and viruses that infect them, setting in motion a paradigm shift in our understanding of ocean productivity, ecology, and biogeochemical cycles.

Arthur R. Grossman (2009)
For pioneering creative and comprehensive research on algae and cyanobacteria, elucidating molecular mechanisms by which they adapt to changes in light color and to nutrient stress.

Sabeeha Merchant (2006)
For her pioneering discoveries in the assembly of metalloenzymes and the regulated biogenesis of major complexes of the photosynthetic apparatus in green algae.

Sarah P. Gibbs (2003)
For her revolutionary concepts and evidence that constitute the foundation for the current theory of chloroplast evolution and the phylogenetic relationships of algae and plants.

Shirley W. Jeffrey (2000)
For her discovery and characterization of major algal pigments, their quantitative application in oceanography, and for providing phytoplankton cultures for international research.

Isabella A. Abbott (1997)
For her comprehensive investigations of the biogeography and systematics of marine algae in the eastern and central Pacific, with emphasis on Rhodophyta, the red algae.

Elisabeth Gantt (1994)
For her pioneering work in elucidating the supramolecular structure of the light-harvesting complexes and energy transfer in the photosynthetic apparatus of red and blue-green algae.

Jean-David Rochaix (1991)
For his elegant, inventive studies in Chlamydomonas using genetics along with cell and molecular biology to elucidate molecular mechanisms of chloroplast biogenesis, photosynthesis, and nuclear-chloroplast interactions.

Ruth Sager (1988)
For her key role in the developing our understanding of genetic systems in organelles though her studies of chloroplast inheritance in the green alga Chlamydomonas

Richard C. Starr (1985)
For his important work, which elucidated the sexuality of desmids and green algae. This was the first time the details of meiosis had been set forth for these groups.

Luigi Provasoli (1982)
For his excellence in phycology, especially for his work on the culture and nutrition of algae, and the influence of bacteria and organic substances on the morphology of larger algae.

William R. Taylor (1979)
For his outstanding contributions to the knowledge of the marine algae of Florida, the Caribbean Sea, the Northwestern Atlantic, and the tropical Pacific Oceans.


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