Mike Jetten awarded with Spinoza Prize for discovery of Anammox bacteria!


The Dutch professor Mike Jetten won the highest scientific award of the Netherlands 2012. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) recognizes his research and the significant impact on the understanding of the nitrogen cycle.

NWO / Ivar Pel
NWO / Ivar Pel

NWO Spinoza Prize

Each year the NWO awards the Spinoza prize, worth 2.5 million Euro to be spent on further research, to a maximum of four Dutch researchers. It is an accolade to the top of international researchers and the most prestigious scientific prize in the Netherlands.
Jetten has won the prize for the discovery of and the research on the Anammox bacteria which led to radical new insights in the global cycles of nitrogen, methane and sulphur in particular.

Professor Mike Jetten

Jetten: “At that time, there was already research going on. It was thought that a reaction of ammonium and nitrite to nitrogen was possible. I helped to understand where the bacteria could be found and how it could be bred.”
Mike Jetten studied molecular sciences at Wageningen University. He gained his PhD cum laude from there in 1991 for his research in anaerobic microbiology. From 1991 to 1994 Jetten carried out research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with funding from NWO. After lecturing in Delft and Nijmegen for many years, Jetten set up the Institute for Water and Wetland Research (IWWR). At the moment he is Professor of Microbiology at Radboud University Nijmegen and an eminent researcher in ecological microbiology.

The bacteria that didn’t exist

“We always thought that we understood the nitrogen cycle,” says Jetten, “Now we know that half of the nitrogen cycle runs though these bacteria.”
He has demonstrated that reactions previously considered ‘impossible’ are used by bacteria as a source of energy and play a vital role in the global cycles of nitrogen, methane and sulphur in particular. Jetten discovered that under anaerobic conditions, anammox bacteria can convert harmful ammonium together with nitrite into nitrogen gas and water. Half of all the nitrogen in the atmosphere is made through this reaction.
Today, there are five different kinds of anammox bacteria. “In South Korea they even named one after me, the ‘Jettenia asiatica’,” says Jetten pleased.

Anammox on economic scale

Since 2002 the bacteria are applied in the water purification process at industrial scale. In cooperation with TU Delft and Paques a sustainable way of removing ammonium from wastewater has been developed. Jetten: “This led to a big Dutch export product!” There are now almost 20 ANAMMOX® installations worldwide and the interest is growing steadily.
To the question what he is going to do with the money from the Spinoza Prize, Jetten smiles: “I want to search and unravel more new bacteria like this one!”


Paques congratulates Prof. Mike Jetten with this honorable award. “Since the full scale development of the ANAMMOX® technology we are in close cooperation with him. We know him as an exceptional scientist who is able to apply the results of his research in practice. We respect Mike for his work and wish him all the best for his future projects.” says Jans Kruit, Director Technology and Engineering at Paques.

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