The Ambassador for Microbes

Microbiology professor Chris Greening stands in front of a bushland scene at Monash University
Microbiologist Chris Greening is the winner of the Frank Fenner Prize of Life Scientist of the Year. Photo: supplied.

Microbiologist Chris Greening is an out-and-proud member of Monash University’s LGBTIQA+ Ally Network and the winner of the Frank Fenner Prize of Life Scientist of the Year.

WORDS Andrew M Potts

Monash University microbiologist Professor Chris Greening has been selected for one of Australia’s most prestigious science awards in the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Chris Greening was awarded the Frank Fenner Prize of Life Scientist of the Year by Anthony Albanese in October for his discovery that microbes can continue to live in a dormant state by “eating” gases such as hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide from the air around them.

It’s estimated that microbes remove 350 million tonnes of gases such as carbon monoxide from the atmosphere each year so it’s a discovery that could be crucial in helping to combat climate change.

“I’m really interested in how we can use microbes in the soil to suck up some of the methane we’ve released,” Professor Greening told QNews after winning the award.

“Methane as a greenhouse gas contributes to about 30 percent of global warming.”

Greening grew up in a working class environment in the UK and is the first person from his family to become an academic, graduating with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry from Oxford University in 2010 before earning a doctorate in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Otago in 2014.

In 2016, he established a research group at Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences and he’s called Australia home since then.

“To receive this level of recognition at the national level in Australia is really validating for someone with my background,” Greening said of the award.

“I’m a first-generation academic, I’m from the LGBT community and I’m also someone who is not neurotypical – I have ADHD which can be both the greatest disability and the greatest strength.”

“I found a place in science for me, and I’m playing to my strengths and relying on wonderful collaborations.”

An inclusive campus

Greening is a member of Monash University’s LGBTIQA+ Ally Network and said he’d felt a sense of community since the day he arrived on campus.

“The day I arrived here was the day of the Orlando nightclub shooting in the US,” Greening said.

“I felt disheartened and scared that day but the first person I met was my deputy head of school who is also openly gay. That made me feel you can be gay at Monash or from a non-traditional academic background and be valued and become a leader here.”

“Some of the previous environments I worked in weren’t as welcoming but I also think academia is becoming a much more inclusive place.

“Being able to feel secure in myself as a person has allowed me to be a more creative and successful scientist.”

Greening is also a Chief Investigator of Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future where uses his research into microbes to understand climate responses and to boost Antarctic conservation efforts – although he’s yet to make the trip himself.

“I wish!,” he says, with a laugh, “I’ve been waiting to go since 2018 but logistical challenges and the Covid pandemic have prevented that. But one of my team members is going in the next few months and I’m hoping to make the trip next season.”

“Even though I haven’t been to Antarctica I always wear my Polar Pride pin to show that it’s ok to be gay or from a non-traditional background and travel to that place which can tend to be a bit of a macho environment.”

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Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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