Carlos J. Finlay UNESCO Prize for Microbiology

Agar plate with colonies, Source: Wikicommons

Microbiology is the field of biology that studies microorganisms: microscopic living organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. They are so small that the unaided human eye is not able to detect them. Nevertheless, they play a fundamental role in sustaining life on earth.

Microorganisms are amongst the strongest form of life on our planet. They can survive in the most unhospitable environments, where no other living organisms can: from the volcanic hot springs to the Antarctic desert. Bacteria and Viruses are the most widespread, populous and ancient beings of our planet.

It is a group of bacteria called cyanobacteria that eventually converted the early reducing atmosphere into an oxidizing one by producing gaseous oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. In so doing, they are believed to have contributed to originating aerobic forms of life on our planet, including plants and animals.

Microorganisms have a major impact on all aspects of life. They are used by humans to make solvents, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, preservatives, and are fundamental to the process of fermentation that produces cheese and bread, for example.

Microorganisms are also pathogens. HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola virus disease and hepatitis are only a few examples amongst many other diseases that they can cause. Worldwide, infectious diseases are a leading cause of death, particularly in low income countries and among children.

Microorganisms also cause major diseases in animals and plants. Thus, they can affect negatively livestock well-being and agricultural crops and hence have negative repercussions on the economy. Nonetheless, we still know very little about how microorganisms function and cause diseases. The development of vaccines and antibiotics is a branch of microbiology that has enabled people to counter many diseases, thus strongly increasing human wellbeing and decreasing mortality as well as increasing crop and livestock yields.

Acknowledging the importance of microbiology for human health and development, the Government of Cuba and UNESCO have established a prize in honour of one of the most important microbiologists in history: Carlos J. Finlay (Camagüey, 3 December 1833 – La Havana, 20 August 1915). His innovative research on infectious diseases and especially his work on yellow fever have had huge benefits for human kind.

The Carlos J. Finlay UNESCO Prize rewards the efforts of an individual, or of an institution, non-governmental organization or other entity which, through research and development, has made an outstanding contribution to the field of microbiology and its applications. In so doing, the Government of Cuba and UNESCO aim to encourage research and development of Microbiology.

Nomination files should be filled in English or French only. They shall be submitted to the UNESCO Director-General at the address indicated hereunder and no later than on 30 July 2017.

Mr Ahmed Fahmi
Programme Specialist
Division for Science Policy and Capacity-Building
Natural Sciences Sector
1 rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15

Contact :
Tel.: +33 1
Fax: +33 1
E-mail: carlosjfinlayprize(at)

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