MSU’s James Tiedje receives prestigious lifetime achievement award
Michigan State University microbial ecologist James Tiedje has been awarded the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) to honor his sustained contributions to the microbiological sciences.
The ASM Awards and Prize Program recognizes leading scientists and researchers in the microbial sciences community for their professional accomplishments and contributions to research, education, clinical laboratories, service and scientific diversity.
“This award is the pinnacle of a remarkable career,” said Douglas Gage, vice president of the Office of Research and Innovation at MSU. “Jim has made unprecedented worldwide contributions to modern microbial ecology and to the training of the next generation of leaders in this field. He has also been an important presence on our campus as a colleague and collaborator.”
Tiedje’s major contributions include his foundational discovery of the microbial ecology of the nitrogen cycle; a paradigm-shifting discovery of microbes that dechlorinate pollutants; and his findings surrounding the use of genomics and metagenomics to understand microbial speciation, community structure and ecological functions. A respected pioneer in microbiome sciences, Tiedje co-led the National Research Council’s 2007 report, The New Science of Metagenomics: Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet, which helped launch the microbiome research era.
“We now recognize that microbes are everywhere and a part of all life, almost all for good, including sustaining our biosphere,” said Tiedje, a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the MSU Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG) and the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. He is also an MSU AgBioResearch faculty member. “Microbes have been the greatest frontier in biology, and it’s been a joy to discover and manage some of their processes for the betterment of life for all. This award also recognizes the great students I’ve had and the supportive environment of MSU.”
Tiedje has served in such leadership roles as director of the Center for Microbial Ecology in the first cohort of 13 U.S. National Science Foundation Science and Technology Centers, president of the American Society for Microbiology, and the International Society of Microbial Ecology, which established the Jim Tiedje Award to recognize outstanding scientists with a distinguished lifetime of achievements in microbial ecology.
A five-decade career of dedicated service in the field has earned Tiedje many accolades, including the Carlos J. Finlay UNESCO Prize for microbial contributions of international significance, the ASM Founders Award for Distinguished Service, the Bergey’s Medal for contributions to the field of bacteria systematics, and being named an Einstein Professor. He was also elected a Foreign Member of the Chinese National Academy of Sciences and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Helsinki.
Tiedje is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology, the Ecological Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America. He served on the Board on Life Sciences of the National Research Council, the EPA’s Science Advisory Panel and on DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, as well as several other advisory boards.
“This lifetime achievement award is the premier honor from the American Society of Microbiology,” said Phil Duxbury, NatSci dean. “Professor Tiedje's research on interactions between microbes, their environments and plant and animal species have had deep impacts on the environment, the economy, research, and development more broadly. He is truly deserving of this high honor.”
Tiedje was nominated for the award by Jizhong Zhou, professor of microbiology at the University of Oklahoma, who was a postdoc at the Center for Microbial Ecology with Tiedje in 1990s.
“As a father of microbial ecology, Jim is an outstanding microbiologist with many distinguished, world-respected lifetime achievements in microbiology, education and programs,” Zhou said.
In addition to his outstanding research accomplishments over the past five decades, Tiedje has mentored 61 graduate students, 61 postdocs, and more than 75 visiting scientists, many of whom are top leaders in microbial ecology worldwide.
“We are privileged as microbiologists to be working in the same era as Jim Tiedje,” said Victor DiRita, Rudolph Hugh Endowed Chair in Microbial Pathogenesis, and MMG chair. “His scientific contributions mark him as one of the towering figures in the history our field. These contributions, with his numerous key leadership positions across the globe, make for a stellar legacy. But perhaps an even greater Tiedje legacy is the astonishing number of successful microbiologists around the world who trained with him over the years. His trainees, and theirs in turn, will extend his lifetime achievements for decades.”
Tiedje, who received a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, and master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University, joined the MSU faculty in 1968. He officially retired in 2019 but remains active in research.ASM awards and prize recipients are awarded an honorarium and are invited to present and be recognized at the 2023 ASM Microbe meeting next June in Houston.
Banner: MSU microbial ecologist James Tiedje has been awarded the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) to honor his sustained contributions to the microbiological sciences. The ASM Awards and Prize Program recognizes leading scientists and researchers in the microbial sciences community for their professional accomplishments and contributions to research, education, clinical laboratories, service and scientific diversity. Credit: Shutterstock/EHCLE