Distinguished Research Professor 2008
Juergen Wiegel, professor of microbiology, pioneered the study of microorganisms that grow at temperatures above 55 degrees in the absence of oxygen. He has established one of the premier laboratories in the world for the isolation and characterization of such “thermophilic anaerobes.” As a postdoc at UGA, Wiegel isolated Thermoaerobactoethanolicus, which represents a novel thermophilic genus, species, and family and was the first wild-type organism patented in the United States for ethanol production. Recently, his laboratory extended the known limits of life when it isolated new genera of bacteria that thrive in alkaline hot springs and salt flats. Some of his novel isolates are a rich source of industrial-relevant enzymes. His laboratory developed a genetic system for thermophilic anaerobes, which is now used in industry. Wiegel’s work has resulted in more than 190 original scientific publications, three patents, and $5.7 million in extramural funding. In 2007 he received the Bergey’s Award, the highest honor in systematic bacteriology, for his contributions to the systematics of thermophilic and alkaliphilic microorganisms in extreme environments.