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Dunedin-born, Prof Knight attended Otago Boys’ High School and gained an Otago University BSc in biochemistry in 1996.
He is the founding director of the Centre for Microbiome Innovation of the University of California, San Diego.
Microbiomes are distinct constellations of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live within and around us, including in the human gut. Award organisers said Prof Knight and his two fellow researchers led a field that worked to produce a detailed understanding of microbiomes and methods for manipulating them to benefit human and environmental health.
His work has linked microbes to a range of health conditions including obesity and inflammatory bowel disease, has enhanced our understanding of microbes in environments ranging from the oceans to the tundra, and made high-throughput sequencing techniques accessible to thousands of researchers around the world.
"I greatly appreciate this recognition for microbiome research — a scientific field that was relatively underappreciated until recent years," Prof Knight said.
He shares the latest $US200,000 Massry Prize with two fellow US researchers, Dr Jeffrey Gordon, of the Washington University School of Medicine, and Dr Norman Pace, of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Dr Knight is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Academy of Microbiology, and is the author of Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes (2015). In 2009, Prof Knight received an Early Career Scientist award in the United States, amounting to more than $US3 million (then $NZ5 million).