Three pioneers in the study of microbiomes will share the 2017 Meira and Shaul G. Massry Prize and deliver a lecture on the Health Sciences Campus in October, officials announced recently. The three scientists were chosen in recognition of their collective efforts in expanding the medical and scientific communities’ understanding of the importance of microbiomes — distinct constellations of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live within and around us — and methods for manipulating microbiomes for the benefit of human and environmental health.

Rob Knight, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego; Jeffrey Gordon, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; and Norman Pace, PhD, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, will share the Massry Prize, which is named in honor of Shaul G. Massry, MD, professor emeritus of medicine, physiology and biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The Meira and Shaul G. Massry Foundation, which promotes education and research in nephrology, physiology and related fields, established the Massry Prize in 1996 to recognize outstanding contributions to the biomedical sciences and the advancement of health. Twelve Massry Prize recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

Pace developed a technique to sequence a bacterial gene called 16S rRNA and use that information to produce microbial “read outs” of what’s living in a mixed sample. Gordon found medical applications for the technique, using it to discover links between the human gut microbiome and obesity and malnutrition. Knight figured out how to scale up the approach, allowing researchers to perform high-throughput microbial gene sequencing, and made widely accessible tools that other researchers have now used in thousands of different environments, including the human body.

The researchers’ collective work has proved the importance of the trillions of bacteria living in the human organism, which are critical contributors to human and environmental health. Allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and many other conditions have been linked to alterations in the human gut microbiome, for example. Growing evidence suggests gut microbes also influence the brain, potentially affecting mood, behavior and psychiatric illnesses.

The scientists will deliver lectures on their work at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in Mayer Auditorium on the Health Sciences Campus.