The Pace lecture series (established in 2018) honors IU alumnus and former Distinguished Professor of Biology Norman R. Pace, one of the world's most influential biologists. Pace is known for his groundbreaking research in biochemistry and in microbial ecology and evolution. He has been a pioneer and leader in two very different fields: he co-discovered catalytic RNAs, and he was a pioneer in developing the methods and philosophy of sequence-based studies of microbes in their natural environments, ushering in the age of metagenomics and microbiome research.
Norman R. Pace Lecture Series
About Norm Pace
Pace was born and raised in a small farming community in Indiana. While in high school, he spent a summer doing research in an Indiana University microbiology lab. In his own words,
Once I was exposed to the culture of being a lab rat, I was hooked!Norman R. Pace
Pace graduated from Indiana University in 1964 with a B.A. (with honors) in bacteriology, which could be referred to as the precursor to IU Biology's microbiology degree.
Pace was a Professor and Distinguished Professor of Biology at Indiana University from 1984 to 1996, during which time he revolutionized microbial ecology in ways that allowed the “unseen 99 percent” to be revealed. His ribosomal RNA gene sequencing enabled scientists to study, for the first time, the 99 percent of microbes that could not be grown in the laboratory and were thus considered inaccessible for study. This work “blew the door off the microbial world,” ushering in the modern age of microbial ecology, including metagenomics and microbiome research. Without it, our understanding of the human microbiome would be years behind where it stands now.
Pace is also celebrated for his revolutionary co-discovery that RNA, like protein, can act in catalysis and thus serve as an enzyme.
Pace received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1967. He was an Assistant, Associate, and Professor of Biophysics and Genetics at the University of Colorado Medical Center, Denver (1969-84); Professor and Distinguished Professor of Biology and Chemistry at Indiana University (1984-96); Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California at Berkeley (1996-99); and Professor and Distinguished Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder (1999-present).
Indiana University presented an honorary Doctor of Science degree to Pace during the IU graduate commencement ceremony on May 4, 2018.
Pace is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Waksman Award for Excellence in Microbiology, a MacArthur “Genius” award, and the 2017 Massry prize in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the biomedical sciences and the advancement of health. He has received lifetime achievement awards from the American Society for Microbiology, the International Society for Microbial Ecology, and the RNA Society. He has been a key consultant of the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board on a variety of issues since the 1980s. A superb and inspiring teacher, both in the classroom and research laboratory, many of his numerous postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate trainees are leaders in academia and industry. In keeping with his Hoosier heritage, Pace is also a renowned spelunker: He has explored more than 100 caves and was the 1987 recipient of the Lew Bicking Award, the highest honor that American cave explorers can achieve.
The past 30 years of microbial biology have witnessed many remarkable and transformative advances across its many diverse sub-disciplines. Perspectives that have particularly advanced and matured in the context of microbial biology in the past three decades include:
- Evolutionary perspectives—The flowering of molecular phylogenetics allowed quantitative inference of the evolutionary relationships amongst all cellular life, and set the stage for genomic evolutionary biology.
- Ecological perspectives—Community structure and variability in natural microbial communities can now be quantitatively assessed in relatively unbiased ways, ushering in a new era in microbial ecology and microbiome science.
- Population biology perspectives—Culture-based and naturally occurring population genetics are now providing new mechanistic insight into the origins of genomic variability, microheterogeneity and gene exchange in microbial populations.
- Systems biology perspectives—That the whole (organelle, cell, multicellular organism, population, community, ecosystem) is more than the sum of its parts has long been appreciated. Contemporary studies are now more fully exploring the interdependencies of complex, multispecies biological systems at a variety of organizational levels, that inform new understanding of emergent system function.
Taking a historical approach, this seminar will explore how perspectives in microbial biology have advanced over the past three decades, via the logical extension and application of Norman Pace’s molecular-phylogenetic survey approaches. Focus will be directed towards new insights and discoveries on the evolution, ecology, population biology and systems biology of microbial assemblages in marine environments, in the context of all the above perspectives.