Professor Chris Greening has been awarded the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year – one of seven Prizes for Science awarded by the Prime Minister every year.
The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are highly prestigious national awards that recognise outstanding achievement in scientific research, research-based innovation, and excellence in science teaching.
Professor Greening is recognised for redefining life through his world-first discovery that microbes live on air. His laboratory discovered that microbes live without typical organic foods by eating gases such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide from the atmosphere instead. These microbes collectively remove 350 million tonnes of gases from the atmosphere each year, thereby counteracting air pollution and regulating climate change.
Professor Greening leads the One Health Microbiology Laboratory within Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI).
Through research spanning the molecule to ecosystem scales, his laboratory investigates how microbes survive in adverse environments. These insights are then used to develop strategies to inhibit pathogenic microbes and promote beneficial ones.
Professor Greening spoke of his excitement at receiving this recognition of the impact of his work.
“To receive the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year is surreal,” Professor Greening said.
“Growing up as a working-class kid, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career and would never have dreamt of this! Science became a passion when I realised that I could actually create new knowledge and make a difference in the world. It’s been exhilarating ever since.”
Through industry collaborations and major programs, Professor Greening is translating his discoveries to benefit the health and sustainability of Australia and its neighbours.
For example, Professor Greening is a chief investigator on Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) and Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF). In these transdisciplinary programs, he uses his expertise as a microbiologist to monitor and reduce the impacts of climate change.
Professor John Carroll, Director of the Monash BDI, spoke about how Professor Greening’s work is driving real-world change.
“Professor Greening is extensively translating his discoveries to address national and global challenges in climate, health, and biodiversity,” Professor Carroll said.
“His dynamic, visionary leadership and productive collaborations with industry partners and transdisciplinary programs have enabled translation of research into scalable practice.”
Professor Greening has held several prestigious fellowships including an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in 2016. In 2020, Professor Greening received $1.45 million as part of his National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Fellowship, which supports him with developing a world-class medical research program, focusing on how microbial gas cycling contributes to the development of tuberculosis and dysentery.
Professor Greening received the Jim Pittard Award for Early Career Researcher from the Australian Society for Microbiology in 2019 and the Fenner Medal from the Australian Academy of Science in 2022. He was also a finalist for the 2022 Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.
Watch the video below to learn more about Professor Greening’s research, which has transformed our understanding of microbiology and its applications.