Fossil blue algae on the trail

Roger Summons researches for nine months in Bremen with the help of the Humboldt Research Award

Geobiologist Roger Summons Roger Summons
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Geobiologist Roger Summons actually works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge - but with the prestigious Humboldt Research Award he will be moving to Bremen for several months. Summons intends to develop new detection methods for cyanobacteria in current and fossil marine deposits.

"Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are among the most important photosynthetic primary producers from an ecological, geobiological and biogeochemical point of view. They have been instrumental in making the earth habitable by higher life forms today. Because they are the ones that began to release oxygen through photosynthesis at least 2.7 billion years ago. However, to date, there are no reliable methods for detecting them in deposits of the past, "explains Kai-Uwe Hinrichs, Professor of Organic Geochemistry at MARUM.

Hinrichs had nominated the respected organic geochemist and geobiologist Roger Summons together with his Oldenburg colleague for the prestigious Humboldt Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. And now it's official: Summons comes to Bremen at the end of 2007. During his stay he will also be a Fellow of the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg in Delmenhorst. "We are very happy that it worked. Because bringing a world-class researcher like Roger to Bremen is a financial effort that we would not have been able to afford without the support of the foundation. "The research prize is endowed with 50, 000 euros.

On the trail of early life

Summons is one of the world's leading experts in the field of organic geochemistry. His scientific achievements include the Geochemical Society 2003, the highest honor in organic geochemistry, the gold medal. For many years he has been studying biochemical traces documenting the evolution of life on the early Earth. His research focuses primarily on molecular fossils, that is called fat-like cell constituents of the early organisms whose molecular skeletons have survived the millions of years more or less undamaged in the rock.

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With the help of such biomarkers Summons helped in 1999 to prove that cyanobacteria already much earlier photosynthesis operated than previously thought. The technically very complex investigations are to be made on today's samples and relatively young samples of only 100 million years of age. The samples come from the International Deep-Sea Drilling Program and are stored at the core storage facility at MARUM in Bremen. For the first time, samples from the seabed, seawater and crops grown under controlled conditions will be compared in a comprehensive framework.

Core samples under the microscope

"The infrastructure at MARUM and the ICBM complement each other perfectly for the research project of Professor Summons. While the highly polar constituents of modern organisms and suspended solids are being investigated in Bremen, we can use our high-resolution mass spectrometers to study their often low-concentration degradation products in geological samples, "says a delighted Jörg Rullk about the cooperation.

The connections between Bremen, Oldenburg and Prof. Summons have existed for some time. Dr. Solveig B hring, RCOM Fellow and research associate of Prof. Hinrichs, has spent a year as a Marie Curie Fellow in the Summons lab at MIT. Julia Sepulveda, a doctoral candidate in Hinrich's research group at the DFG Research Training Group Europrox, returned from a six-month stay in Summon's Cambridge laboratory a few weeks ago. In return, several students and postgraduate students of MIT have been guests in Bremen within the framework of the international RCOM summer student program and other collaborations in recent years, and are expected to return this summer.

But during Summons research, for the first time, all scientists working on the problem can collaborate directly over a longer period of time. "This allows for a completely different exchange, so that we can take a big step forward in this time, " says Hinrichs, commenting on the huge profit that the research prize has made means for the entire working group.

(Kirsten Achenbach, MARUM_Forschungszentrum Ozeanr nder, 24.05.2007 - AHE)