Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
man in a lab

Professor Chris Greening, winner of the Australian Prime Minister’s 2023 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

Warmest congratulations to Otago alumnus and Monash University Professor Chris Greening who has been awarded the Australian Prime Minister’s 2023 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

The prestigious national award is one of seven annual Prizes for Science that recognise outstanding achievement in scientific research, research-based innovation, and excellence in science teaching.

Professor Greening graduated from the University of Otago with a PhD in 2014, and the award recognises research he began as a PhD student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Professor Greening has redefined life through his world-first discovery that microbes live on air. His work has shown that atmospherically-powered microbes are highly abundant and active throughout soils and waters.

Moreover, Professor Greening has discovered new ways that microbes help regulate climate change and air pollution. Microbes remove 350 million tonnes of gases such as carbon monoxide from the atmosphere each year.

“It’s surreal to receive this honour,” says Professor Greening. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing experiences I had during my PhD at the University of Otago. That period of my life was truly formative both personally and professionally.

“I came to the University of Otago very green (excuse the pun!). Through the visionary leadership and supportive mentorship of my supervisor Distinguished Professor Gregory Cook, I grew into a fully-fledged scientist and more confident, pragmatic, and optimistic person.

“I’ve continued to work extensively with Professor Cook and another key mentor, Dr Sergio Morales, in the years since.”

Professor Cook says, “We were delighted to see Chris awarded the 2023 Frank Fenner Prize of Life Scientist of the Year. Chris was a PhD student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology from 2010-14 where he first demonstrated that microbes could produce energy from the oxidation of atmospheric hydrogen.

“Chris was an outstanding PhD student and showed an extraordinary ability to expand lab-based studies into major ecosystem-level concepts that are now paradigms in microbial ecology.  We are extremely proud of his achievements, and it is a real honour for our Department and University to have played a part in his journey to becoming a global leader in this exciting field of research. We look forward to seeing more of his exciting research in the future.”

Professor Greening leads the One Health Microbiology Laboratory at Monash University in Melbourne, and is also a Chief Investigator of Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF). He uses his discoveries to understand climate responses and inform conservation efforts in Antarctica.

He 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 programme, 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.

Continuing the Otago connections with the Frank Fenner Prize, Professor Fenner was the PhD supervisor of distinguished Otago alumnus and virologist Professor Robert Webster.

Watch Professor Greening talk about his work here:

Back to top