Martin J. Blaser

Robert Koch Gold Medal 2019

Martin J. Blaser always says that the most important thing in life is to follow your inner voice, when young colleagues ask for some parting advice: “Follow your nose, and see where it leads!” Blaser’s life’s work is an impressive example of just how far this attitude can take you.

In 1998, he set up the “Foundation for Bacteria” in order to promote broader studies on the complex role of bacteria. Blaser and his team found the first indications that a colonization of the human stomach with H. pylori can protect against serious diseases of the esophagus, including esophageal cancer. And there were strong indications that it also helped prevent asthma among children.

In his much-quoted essay “What are the consequences of the disappearing human microbiota?”, which he published in 2009 together with the American microbiologist Stanley Falkow, he warned against a fatal “extinction” in the human microbiome that had led to a massive increase in diseases occurring in modern civilization, such as diabetes, asthma, obesity and food allergies. The experiments conducted in his lab showed that early life antibiotic exposures could play causal roles in obesity, juvenile diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease through a perturbed microbiome. In his book “Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plague”, Blaser made his work available to a broader readership, now translated into 20 languages.