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2012 Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences

Jeffrey I. Gordon, M.D., Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine 

GordonJeffrey I. Gordon, M.D., has pioneered research into 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 have implications for global efforts to combat a variety of diseases, including obesity and malnutrition. 

Today, Dr. Gordon is the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, where he has taught for more than 30 years. Dr. Gordon also serves as director of the university’s Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, where he oversees an interdisciplinary team of investigators from multiple schools who focus on comparative genomics, statistical genomics, and systems biology. From 1991 to 2004, he served as head of the department of molecular biology and pharmacology. 

At the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Dr. Gordon 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 communities,” says Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. 

Curious to determine the role of gut bacteria in obesity, Dr. Gordon and his team discovered that gut microbiomes were different in lean versus obese mice, and in lean and obese twins. A “eureka” moment came when Dr. Gordon and his team transplanted microbial communities from both obese and lean mice into adult mice without previous exposure to microbes. The “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, Dr. Gordon and his group have turned their attention to the role of the gut microbiome in childhood malnutrition, focusing on twins discordant for severe acute malnutrition living in low-income countries.  

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 Dean Shapiro. Michael S. Brown, M.D., Paul J. Thomas Professor of Genetics and director of the Jonsson Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, adds, “Through his astonishing studies of metabolic effects of intestinal bacteria, Dr. Gordon has revolutionized our ideas regarding the control of body weight and metabolism.”  

Dr. 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,” says Dean Shapiro. 

“It is clear that Jeff Gordon has been remarkably innovative in opening up a previously unexplored area of biology that has major implications for human health and disease,” adds Kurt J. Isselbacher, M.D., Distinguished Mallinckrodt Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

Dr. Gordon received his A.B. degree from Oberlin College and his M.D. degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.


Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences

This award recognizes outstanding clinical or laboratory research conducted by a medical school faculty member.