The American researcher Jeffrey Gordon has won the Frontiers of Knowledge award awarded by the BBVA Foundation in the category of Biology and Biomedicine. The jury has highlighted Gordon and his team were "the first to demonstrate the importance of the intestinal microbial community in the regulation of animal physiology", a pioneering discovery that has opened a new field of biomedical research.
After this fundamental discovery, in recent years it has been shown that the Intestinal microbes play a central role in diseases such as obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as in the impact of malnutrition in children. The jury also highlights that their work has opened the door to the use of transplants in fecal microbiota against colitis, and considers that research in this field has great potential for the development of future therapies against other diseases.
That the human body coexists with numerous microorganisms that colonize it was known a long time ago, but its importance was not suspected. In fact, the interest of Gordon and his group in the intestinal flora arose while investigating other areas: the formation of the intestine. Looking for the chemical signals that the cells exchange while they contribute the intestine, this scientist discovered that also the microorganisms of the intestinal flora constantly speak with our cells, and perform essential tasks for them. For example, digest nutrients that the human body is unable to metabolize.
He graduated in medicine from the University of Chicago in 1973. After completing his clinical training in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and conducting a postdoctoral research stay at the National Institutes of Health, in 1981 he joined the University of Washington in San Luis, where He has developed his career. The main contribution was the discovery that the bacteria that bend the intestinal tract work in symbiosis with our body: it clarified that the bacteria are not the enemies.
His experiments with mice led him to find a bacterium whose role is key in the metabolization of food. In 2014, his laboratory discovered that the microbiota, the intestinal bacterial ecosystem, is a determining factor in the regulation of adipose tissue formation and, later, eestablished a first relationship between the microbiota and obesity. In addition, his investigations in child malnutrition have shown that there are bacteria that play a decisive role, beyond proper nutrition.