2021 Banners MolecularBiology

2021 Banners MolecularBiology

Joseph D. Mougous, University of Washington and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, received the 2021 NAS Award in Molecular Biology.

Mougous transformed the fields of microbiology and host-microbe interactions through his groundbreaking discovery that bacterial type VI secretion systems deliver potent antimicrobial toxins between bacterial cells and are a crucial driver of interbacterial competition and the shaping of microbial communities. He also discovered unique toxins of potential utility in basic research, as antimicrobials and of use in genome editing. 

Mougous and his team further demonstrated that genes providing immunity to the toxins they discovered are passed between groups of bacteria to allow them to survive microbial competition in the human gut. This is a new mechanism of bacterial innate immunity, which is important because it reshapes how we approach host-associated microbial communities, thus paving the way for rational microbiome manipulation for improved health. 

His impact on the field of biology, particularly the subdiscipline of symbiosis, has led to the recognition that antagonism between microbes is widespread in all corners of the biosphere, from the bodies of animals or plants to global oceans and terrestrial soils. This paradigm shift has enabled the research community to move beyond merely cataloging the composition of microbial communities toward dissecting the mechanisms responsible for their structure and function.

The NAS Award in Molecular Biology is supported by Pfizer Inc. and recognizes a recent notable discovery by a young scientist (defined as no older than 45) who is a citizen of the United States. The award is presented with a medal and a $25,000 prize.


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