David C. White Research and Mentoring Award - 2012

Dr Peter Greenberg

E. Peter Greenberg, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Microbiology, University of Washington School of Medicine, has been honored with the 2012 D.C. White Research and Mentoring Award. Recognizing distinguished accomplishments in interdisciplinary research and mentoring in microbiology, this award honors D.C. White, who was known for his interdisciplinary scientific approach and for being a dedicated and ins piring mentor.

As stated by his nominator, former graduate student Heidi Kaplan, now at the University of Texas Medical School, "Greenberg's career is marked by outstanding success in what continues to be recognized as interdisciplinary research in quorum sensing. In addition, his mentoring qualities are legendary. He has made an indelible impact on the scientific careers of his students and postdoctoral fellows, and most have gone on to be leaders in microbiology."

Greenberg received his bachelor's in Biology from Western Washington University, and his master's in Microbiology from the University of Iowa. He then went on to the University of Massachusetts, where he earned his Ph.D. in Microbiology. "During that period, Greenberg isolated the first extremophilic spirochete, the salt - loving, vividly red bacterium S. halophila," explained Jared Leadbetter, Caltech. "It was also then that he identified his career - long interest in how bacteria sense the world in which they live, and how they employ such information in behavior and transcription." He next became a NIH postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, before joining the faculty at Cornell University and eventually the University of Iowa. In 2005, Greenberg returned to the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington.

Greenberg has spent his scientific career studying the social behavior of bacteria. He has focused on the coordination of activities in groups of bacteria, with an emphasis on cell - to - cell communication and a phenomenon that is known as quorum sensing. "Greenberg pioneered the quorum - sensing field and has remained one of its leaders. He made a seamless transition from working on bacterial luminescence, a microbiological oddity, to focusing on Pseudomonas pathogenesis, a system that has critical implications on human health," expounded Kaplan. Bacterial communication controls virulence in a variety of pathogenic bacteria, and has thus become a target for the development of new therapeutic strategies. Bacteria have also become models for studies of selection for and evolution of cooperative behavior.

Greenberg's work has been recognized by his election as a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Microbiology. "Greenberg's seminal work on quorum sensing and biofilms has revolutionized the way we think about bacterial social behaviors, and the development of 'sociomicrobiology' as a field has impacted virtually every bacteriology researcher in the world," says Marvin Whiteley, University of Texas, Austin. "Greenberg and the students he's mentored reached several important milestones first," adds Leadbetter. "Among them: the first genes cloned from a spirochete, the first evidence for glycosylated proteins in a prokaryote (a highly contentious result at the time that has since proven to be a widespread feature of other bacteria proteins), and - perhaps most seminally - the first demonstration in any bacterium of how rotational changes in multiple flagellar motors are coordinated in spirochete cells, ie. through electrical, not chemical, means."

Greenberg's excellence in mentoring has had a lasting impact on his former students, and his valuable guidance has defined the careers of many. "He created an environment that challenged everyone to meet their maximum potential and greatly impact their field," Kaplan said. Whitely summarizes, "Greenberg is an intuitive scientist and encourages creative thinking by his students/post - docs. Importantly, he encourages each individual to follow their interests, whether it be research and/or teaching in academic or industrial settings."