Ed DeLong elected to the National Academy of Sciences

April 29, 2008

Professor Edward F. DeLong of the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Biological Engineering was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences today. DeLong, a marine microbiologist whose groundbreaking work on ocean microbes is internationally recognized, will also receive two other major awards this spring, from the European Geosciences Union and the American Academy of Microbiology.

DeLong is perhaps best known for his discovery in 2000 that oceanic bacteria can make use of a rhodopsin protein to convert sunlight into biochemical energy, revealing a previously unknown component in the Earth’s carbon and energy cycles. He is also considered a pioneer in the field of metagenomics. This new field focuses on the study of the genomics of natural microbial communities, greatly extending our understanding of microbial processes beyond that of lab-cultured microorganisms.

DeLong's election to the National Academy of Science recognizes his distinguished achievement in original research. Membership in the academy-- a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare established in 1863--is  considered one of the highest honors a scientist or engineer can receive. Membership is by election only; 72 new members and 18 associates from other countries were elected this year, bringing membership total to 2,041, including CEE's Professor Penny Chisholm.

Also this month, the European Geosciences Union presented DeLong with the Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky Medal at its general assembly April 13-18 for his “important contributions to geomicrobiology and biogeochemical cycling through the innovative use of molecular tools and a genomics approach.” The EGU’s award statement called DeLong a “brilliant” researcher and referred to his many “landmark papers.”

The Vernadsky Medal was created to honor an Ukranian-Russian scientist whose 1926 book introduced a concept of the biosphere that is still accepted today. Vernadsky’s research pointed out the pathway for the interdisciplinary sciences biogeochemistry, geomicrobiology and ecosystem studies. “The Biosphere” (Springer-Verlag 1998) was first published in English just 10 years ago.

DeLong will receive another major award this spring, this one from the American Society of Microbiology. At its annual meeting in Boston this May, the ASM will present DeLong with the Procter & Gamble Award in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. According to the ASM, DeLong’s work “has been at the forefront of an explosion of new information about marine microbial diversity, and he is a world leader in developing and using metagenomics to address environmental microbiological questions.”

DeLong joined the MIT faculty in 2004, leaving his position as senior scientist and chair of the Science Department at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. He received his B.S. in bacteriology from the University of California at Davis and his Ph.D. in marine biology from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Along with his faculty appointments at MIT, he is also associate director for research of the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE), a multi-institution research center that facilitates collaborative research  among the disciplines of oceanography, microbiology, ecology and genomics.