CEE Professor Martin Polz will receive the American Society for Microbiology’s Elanco Award

March 20, 2013

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) announced recently that Professor Martin Polz of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is recipient of the Eli Lilly and Company-Elanco Research Award, ASM's oldest and most prestigious prize. 

Prof. Martin Polz — whose work could predict and prevent outbreaks of pathogenic microbes — studies the bacterium responsible for cholera, a disease that still affects millions around the world.
Prof. Martin Polz — whose work could predict and prevent outbreaks of pathogenic microbes — studies the bacterium responsible for cholera, a disease that still affects millions around the world. Photo/ Len Rubenstein

Polz, a microbiologist whose research explores the relationships between structure and function in microbial communities in the wild, is the first ecologist to be selected in the 77-year history of the award, which rewards fundamental research in microbiology or immunology by a scientist not yet 45 years old. Polz will receive the award and give the Eli Lilly Award Lecture during the ASM’s 113th General Meeting to be held in Denver in May. 

Polz received the master’s of science in zoology in 1991 from the University of Vienna and the Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1997. The next year, he joined the faculty of MIT, where he teaches environmental microbiology at the undergraduate and graduate levels. His research is focused on the evolutionary ecology of microbes in the wild and combines environmental observations with genomics and molecular genetics. 

“Polz’s lab, thanks to his own scientific breadth, is the most well-rounded center of research I know, using molecular ecology, chemistry, molecular genetics, population genetic theory, genomics and phylogenomics all with proficiency and imagination,” said Professor Emeritus W. Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University. 

Recent work by Polz showed for the first time that individual marine microbes exhibit social cooperation by producing and using antibiotics not solely for selfish intentions, but for the good of the micro-population. This is the first time that this type of social behavior has been observed in natural populations of bacteria, and the findings open new lines of inquiry into the social structure and interactions in microbial communities in their natural environment. 

“Polz has made fundamental contributions to the technology and theory necessary to advance under