Professor Rob Knight awarded with Kiel Möbius Prize

Collaborative Research Centre 1182 at Kiel University honours renowned microbiologist from San Diego for his pioneering work in microbiome research

Yesterday, Wednesday 7 September, the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1182 “Origin and Function of Metaorganisms” at Kiel University once again awarded its most important science prize, the Karl August Möbius Fellowship. After the ceremony had to be postponed due to Corona, the New Zealand-American microbiologist Professor Rob Knight from the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) was now able to accept the award in person in Kiel. Knight is one of the most influential personalities in microbiome research and regularly ranks in the world’s top 100 most cited researchers of all scientific disciplines.

The internationally renowned scientist receives the 10,000 Euro Kiel award for his pioneering work in the field of microbiome research and his special achievements in understanding the interplay between the microbial colonisation of the body and human health. Knight, founding director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UCSD, is considered one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of human microbiome research. During a ceremony at the Centre for Molecular Biosciences in Kiel, CRC 1182 spokesperson Professor Thomas Bosch presented the Möbius Award to Knight, who reported on current perspectives in the research field in his subsequent plenary lecture entitled “Pivoting microbiome research and resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Mastermind of microbiome research
In recent years, Rob Knight has presented numerous research findings based on extensive genome sequencing studies that demonstrate fundamental differences in microbiome composition between healthy and sick people. Among other things, he has uncovered variations between the gut microbiomes of obese and lean people, shown that the human microbiome changes drastically depending on geographic origin, or that babies born by caesarean section show a deviating microbial population. Currently, Knight is exploring the links between the microbiome and COVID-19 and seeks to improve surveillance of new coronavirus variants. Overall, the microbiologist has played a decisive role in establishing microbiome research as a mainstay of modern life sciences and medicine.

“Knight’s work is exemplary in demonstrating the fundamental role that host-microbiome relationships play in human health. In an unprecedented scope, he has provided important insights into the influence of a wide variety of factors, for example from the environment, medicine or nutrition, on the composition and disruption of the human microbiome. For research into the causes of disease, his findings are invaluable and will help to treat or even cure environmental diseases in the future, such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease or chronic inflammatory diseases,” explains host Bosch from CRC 1182. “For our Collaborative Research Centre, Knight’s scientific achievements are therefore of central importance and make him an especially deserving recipient of the Kiel Möbius Award,” Bosch continues.

The microbiome and the Corona pandemic
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is caused by a single virus and its ongoing evolutionary adaptation, researchers suspect that the human microbiome may also influence infection and disease. Research into these interrelationships promises a better understanding, for example, of the effectiveness of vaccines or perspectives for possible microbiome-based therapies. Knight and his research team are currently investigating various facets of the interactions between the human microbiome and COVID-19, for example whether and how different compositions of the microbial colonisation affect the course of the disease.

In Knight’s lab, researchers also developed innovative methods to detect early indications of the emergence and possible rapid spread of new SARS CoV-2 variants in wastewater – long before they show up in clinical settings. Wastewater surveillance is already being used around the world to monitor increases or decreases in infection cases independent of population testing. Knight and his colleagues, however, have now succeeded in improving the analysis of viral genetic information from these samples in such a way that different and also new coronavirus variants and their frequency can be read out. They are thus making a significant contribution to accelerating the public health response in the pandemic to keep pace with ongoing viral evolution.

Renowned award winners
As a Kiel Möbius Fellow, Rob Knight joins the circle of important international scientists from the field of microbiome research who have been honoured by the Kiel CRC 1182 since 2016. These include Professor Angela Douglas from Cornell University, in Ithaca, USA, Professor Martin Blaser from Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, and Professor Eugene Rosenberg together with Dr Ilana Zilber-Rosenberg from Tel Aviv University in Israel. The members of the Kiel Collaborative Research Centre hope that their science prize will help to raise public awareness of the central importance of research into the interplay between host organisms and microorganisms for health and disease.

About the eponym Karl August Möbius:
In the second half of the 19th century, the zoologist and ecologist discovered the concept of biocoenosis in Kiel, which is the interdependence of different organisms within an ecosystem. Today’s metaorganism researchers in Kiel and their partners around the world are continuing the research direction pioneered by Möbius by further developing the concept of multi-organismic relationships and its significance for the health and disease of humans, animals and plants.

Images are available for download:
Caption: Prof. Rob Knight from the University of California San Diego received the Kiel Möbius Fellowship for his pioneering work in the field of microbiome research, pictured right: CRC 1182 spokesperson Prof. Thomas Bosch.
© Christian Urban, Kiel University
Caption: In his plenary lecture, Prof Knight reported on perspectives of the research field, including the use of wastewater monitoring for early detection of new SARS CoV-2 variants.
© Christian Urban, Kiel University
Caption: Prof. Bosch (left) congratulated Prof. Knight on winning the 10,000 euro science prize of the Collaborative Research Centre 1182 “Origin and Function of Metaorganisms” at Kiel University.
© Christian Urban, Kiel University

Prof. Thomas Bosch
Spokesperson CRC 1182
Origin and Function of Metaorganisms“, Kiel University
Phone: +49 (0) 431-880-4170

More information:
Priority research are Kiel Life Science (KLS), Kiel University:

Knight Lab, University of California San Diego (UCSD):

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