PNAS Cozzarelli Prize for paper on air eating microbe


The Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has selected our paper with Andreas Richter and Alexander Tviet (former TER member) and Michael Wagner, Arno Schintlmeister and Craig Herbold from our sister division DOME as co-authors published by PNAS in 2019 as one of 6 papers to receive the Cozzarelli Prize. This prestigious award recognizes outstanding contributions to the scientific disciplines represented by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Papers were chosen from the more than 3,300 research articles that appeared in the journal last year and represent the six broadly defined classes under which the NAS is organized.

The annual Cozzarelli Prize acknowledges papers that reflect scientific excellence and originality. The award was established in 2005 as the Paper of the Year Prize and was renamed in 2007 to honor late PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli. 

Atmospheric methane is a major contributor to global warming. Methane-oxidizing bacteria are an important biological sink for atmospheric methane, but no pure cultures of such microbes have been available. In our PNAS paper we reported the isolation of a pure culture of a methane-oxidizing soil bacterium that can grow on air. The strain, named Methylocapsa gorgona MG08, oxidizes methane at atmospheric concentrations for use as a carbon and energy source. The strain is also capable of using carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, dinitrogen, dioxygen, and hydrogen for energy conservation or biomass synthesis. The findings suggest that some microbes can satisfy their needs for energy, carbon, and nitrogen by relying solely on air.