Campus News

UGA microbiologist Barny Whitman wins national award

Athens, Ga. – William “Barny” Whitman, head of the department of microbiology in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been named winner of the 2010 J. Roger Porter Awardfrom the American Society for Microbiology and United States Federation of Culture Collections. Whitman is a worldwide recognized expert in methanogens and also has made significant contributions to microbial metabolism, diversity and taxonomy.

Thisaward recognizes outstanding efforts by a scientist who has demonstrated the importance of microbial biodiversity through sustained curatorial or stewardship activities for a major resource used by the scientific community.It honors the memory of Porter, who was an internationally known, highly respected microbiologist and spent his entire career at the University of Iowa.

The award comes with a cash prize of $2,000, a commemorative piece and travel to the ASM General Meeting where he will deliver the USFCC/J. Roger Porter Award Lecture.

Whitman helped elucidate the unique metabolism of methanogens, microorganisms that produce methane, especially their carbon metabolism. He also worked with the late David Boone to reorganize their taxonomy and establish the International Committee of the Systematics of Prokaryotes Subcommittee on the Taxonomy of Methanogens.

Whitman also has published on the biodiversity and physiology of methanogens and was one of the first investigators to use genetic methods to study these strictly anaerobic microorganisms. Whitman’s highest scholarly impact publication was his research that provided microbial taxonomists with a simple method to aid in the characterization and naming of bacterial and archaeal species.

Whitman also is known for his contributions to understanding microbial diversity. His nominator, James T. Staley of the University of Washington, Seattle, said, “One exceptional example of this is his seminal 1998 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which provided evidence that the biomass of bacteria and archaea was at least equivalent to that of all plants and animals. This was a revelation not only to biologists but to everyone.”

Whitman received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout his career he has volunteered his time and expertise to many organizations and publications, including the ATCC, the International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology and Bergey’s Manual Trust. He is currently director of the Editorial Office for Bergey’s Manual Trust which is located at the University of Georgia.

Locally, he has led teams from the department to local schools for demonstrations of the wonderful world of microorganisms, this year including Whit Davis and Fowler Drive Elementary Schools.