Jeffrey Gordon, E. Peter Greenberg and Bonnie L. Bassler 2023 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research


Jeffrey Gordon has spearheaded the study of the human microbiome, the set of microorganisms that inhabit our intestines (tens of trillions: several times more than the total number of our own cells), and their influence on human health, not only in nutrition, digestion and metabolism (diabetes, obesity, malnutrition), but also in the immune and neurological development of children and young people. Gordon used transgenic mice to demonstrate that intestinal epithelial cell differentiation was conditioned by environmental signals and that Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron is responsible for the production of polysaccharides in intestinal cells. He thereby demonstrated the importance of nutrient exchange relationships between the microbiota and the host. He played a leading role in the Human Microbiome Project, which has made it possible to estimate the species that make up the microbiota at around 10 000 and to sequence the genome of more than a hundred of them to date. He subsequently focused on the role of the microbiome in the development of diseases such as obesity and diabetes, offering a new approach in the treatment of malnutrition in children and its developmental consequences, which depend not only on diet, but also on the acquisition of a healthy microbiome. Consequently, he proposes microbiota transplants as an innovative treatment to improve the nutritional status of populations.

Bonnie L. Bassler and E. Peter Greenberg are pioneers in the study of inter-bacterial communication through the emission of certain substances and how the formation of large groups generates behaviour which differs from that produced when they are isolated. This is called ‘quorum sensing’ (a term coined by Greenberg in a 1994 scientific article). Building on some previous publications on the phenomenon, Bassler and Greenberg separately contributed to understanding it and demonstrating its mechanism. Each bacterial species has its own molecule (a language) that it secretes and that only those of its own species recognize, so they know when there are others around them and tend to form a community (the ‘quorum’) that regulates the expression of some genes. In the 1980s, Greenberg discovered that the bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri only produced light when in large groups, and that its members coordinated via a chemical signal. Starting in 1990, Bassler studied the phenomenon in the bacterium Vibrio harveyi and unravelled the molecular mechanisms of quorum sensing. She also discovered that bacteria can emit and receive other substances to communicate between different species and that there is a universal language (what she calls “a bacterial Esperanto”). Bacterial communication is important as part of our body’s microbiota, as well as due to its role in infections, in which there is a stage of low activity until a large group is formed, as if waiting to accumulate strength, following which they carry out a mass attack on the organism. Based on this phenomenon, antagonist molecules of these substances are being developed to interfere with communication as a possible antimicrobial pathway for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the efficacy of which has already been demonstrated in the laboratory in mice.

Video: "Interfiew with Prof E. Peter Greenberg"

TED Talk:«How bacteria "talk"»

Jeffrey Gordon (New Orleans, USA, 1947) graduated in Biology in 1969 from Oberlin University (Ohio) and in Medicine from the University of Chicago. He completed his clinical training in internal medicine and gastroenterology at Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri, USA), in whose Faculty of Medicine he is a member of the Departments of Medicine and Biological Chemistry, and where he headed the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology between 1991 and 2003. Currently, he holds the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professorship and, since 2004, has been founding Director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology of said university. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine. His numerous awards include the Paul Janssen Award (2023), the Balzan Prize (2021), the Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2019), the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences (2013), the Robert Koch Award (2013), the Dickson Prize in Medicine (2014), the Steven C. Beering Award (2016), the Copley Medal of the Royal Society (2018) and the George M. Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians (2021). He has more than 800 publications and 24 patents. According to Google Scholar, he has been cited 257 362 times and has an h-index of 186.

E. Peter Greenberg was born on 7th November 1948 in New York (USA). He obtained a BS in Biology from Western Washington University in 1970, an MS in Microbiology from the University of Iowa (1972) and a PhD in the same field from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1977). After a postdoctoral position at Harvard University, he joined Cornell University, then Iowa University and finally Washington University in 2005, where he is currently a professor of Microbiology. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Academy of Microbiology. Joint Shaw Prize Laureate in Life Sciences together with Bassler (2015) and Clarivate Citation Laureate in Chemistry (2022), he has also received the Gairdner International Award (2023) among other distinctions. According to Scopus, Greenberg has published at least 225 scientific articles, has been cited 45 431 times and has an h-index of 87.

Bonnie L. Bassler (Chicago, USA, 1962) graduated in Biochemistry from the University of California, Davis and received her PhD in Biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1990. She worked at the Agouron Institute in La Jolla (California) from 1990 to 1994, following which she joined Princeton University as a professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, which she is currently chair of the department and Squibb Professor. Joint Shaw Prize Laureate in Life Sciences, together with Greenberg (2015), she has received numerous distinctions for her research work, including the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize (2021), the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize (2016), the McArthur Fellowship (2002), the L’Oreal UNESCO for Women in Science Award (2012), the Richard Lounsbery Award (2011) and the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences (2009). She was a member of President Obama’s Scientific Advisory Committee and president of the American Society for Microbiology. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Foreign Member of The Royal Society (2011 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities). Author of more than 330 scientific publications, according to Google Scholar her works have been cited 59 849 times and she has an h-index of 101.


At its meeting in Oviedo, the Jury for the 2023 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, made up of Jesús del Álamo, Alberto Aparici Benages, Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras, Avelino Corma Canós, Miguel Delibes de Castro, Sandra Myrna Díaz, Clara Grima Ruiz, Bernardo Hernández González, Jerónimo López Martínez, Inmaculada Martínez Rubio, Amador Menéndez Velázquez, Concepción Alicia Monje Micharet, Ginés Morata Pérez, Inés Rodríguez Hidalgo, María Teresa Telleria Jorge, María Vallet Regí, María Paz Zorzano Mier, chaired by Pedro Miguel Echenique Landiríbar and with Cristina Garmendia Mendizábal acting as secretary, has decided to grant the Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research to American biologists Jeffrey Gordon and E. Peter Greenberg and American biochemist Bonnie L. Bassler for their contributions to new approaches that recognize the essential role of microorganism communities in life on Earth, including that of human beings.

Jeffrey Gordon has spearheaded the discovery and understanding of the human microbiome, i.e. the vast number and diversity of microorganisms that live in the body, which play essential roles in health, including nutrition, metabolism and immune response. E. Peter Greenberg and Bonnie L. Bassler have brought to light communication mechanisms between bacteria, which emit chemical signals that modulate their collective behaviour. Both discoveries are enabling innovative therapeutic applications and the search for new effective treatments against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Oviedo, 7th June 2023


© Fundación Princesa de Asturias


  • © Washington University in St. Louis (Jeffrey Gordon) (1,4)
  • © E. Peter Greenberg (1,6)
  • © Alena Soboleva (Bonnie L. Bassler) (1)
  • © NIH Image Gallery Public Domain Mark 1.0 (2,5)
  • © Janice Carr, Segrid McAllister USCDCP (3)
  • © Donny Bliss, NIH CC BY 2.0 (7)
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