Innovator in Human Microbiome Research Awarded Horwitz Prize

September 28, 2017

New York, NY (Sept. 28, 2017)—Columbia University will award the 2017 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize to Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Gordon’s research has shown how human health is influenced by our resident microbes and how they function as a community, rather than in isolation, to influence many aspects of our biology. His discoveries have shed new light on the origins of two pressing global health problems: obesity and childhood malnutrition.

The Horwitz Prize, first awarded in 1967, is Columbia University’s top honor for achievement in biological and biochemical research. Forty-three Horwitz Prize awardees have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

“Dr. Gordon pioneered a scientific field demonstrating how the microbes that colonize the human gut have a direct and essential role on our digestive health and overall well-being,” said Lee Goldman, MD, Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor, dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, and chief executive of Columbia University Medical Center.

“Thanks to Dr. Gordon, we now know that the microbial communities in our gut function much like an organ, which both can influence—and be influenced by—other aspects of health and environment,” said Gerard Karsenty, MD, PhD, chair of the Horwitz Prize Committee and the Paul A. Marks Professor and chair of the Department of Genetics & Development at Columbia University Medical Center. “This fundamental insight was gleaned from the painstaking work of peering into the mechanisms and processes that govern the organization and function of the gut microbiome and viewing them through the wider lens of classical whole-organism physiology.”

Dr. Gordon’s research stems from an early interest in developing preclinical models to identify the previously unknown functions and biological effects of the vast community of microbes that colonize our gut. He has combined these models with studies of twins and members of birth cohorts living in low- and high-income countries to observe the relationship between microbiome function and disease. Transplanting intact gut communities, or cultured components, into mice raised in germ-free conditions and feeding the recipient animals human diets, he showed how to link a person’s gut microbiome to his or her biological features.

In a key paper published in Science in 2001, Dr. Gordon revealed that resident bacteria modulate the expression of genes involved in a number of important intestinal functions. Followup work in PNAS and Nature revealed that the gut microbiome is an important factor in regulating body fat content and metabolism.

In studies of malnourished children in Malawi and Bangladesh, Dr. Gordon discovered that failure of the children’s gut microbiomes to develop normally was causally linked to disease.

His current efforts are focused on developing new microbiome-directed foods to promote normal postnatal development of this microbial "organ" and healthy growth. His work also promises to provide new ways to identify more nutritious foods, which will be important as rapid population growth presents challenges to sustainable agriculture.

“Dr. Gordon’s work has transformed our view of gut microbes into something that plays an integral role in health and disease,” said Michael Purdy, PhD, executive vice president for research at Columbia University. “This ability to see something so small as a microbe in such a radically different way is what makes Dr. Gordon a Horwitz Prize winner.”

Awardee Biography

Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, is the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and Director, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he has spent his entire career. He received his AB from Oberlin College and his MD from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Gordon is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Philosophical Society. He is a recipient of the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Robert Koch Award, the Passano Laureate Award, the Dickson Prize in Medicine, the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine, the Keio Medical Science Prize, and the Massry Prize, plus honorary degrees from the University of Gothenburg and University of Chicago. Dr. Gordon has served as research mentor to more than 125 PhD and MD/PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have become leaders in this field.

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize was established under the will of the late S. Gross Horwitz through a bequest to Columbia University. It is named in honor of the donor’s mother, Louisa Gross Horwitz, who was the daughter of Dr. Samuel David Gross (1805–89), a prominent Philadelphia surgeon who served as president of the American Medical Association and wrote "Systems of Surgery." Of the 94 Horwitz Prize winners to date, 43 have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes. Most recently, the 2013 Horwitz Prize winners, Edvard I. Moser, PhD, and May-Britt Moser, PhD, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway, shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with John Michael O’Keefe, PhD, of University College London. For a list of previous Horwitz Prize awardees, please click here.

The 2017 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize Lectures will be held on Jan. 25, 2018, followed by an awards ceremony.

For more information about the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize and the January lectures, please visit

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