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High-ranking award for Antje Boetius

Biologist receives grant from the European Research Council to study bacteria of the Arctic seabed

Prof. Antje Boetius, head of the deep-sea research group at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association and Professor of Geomicrobiology at the University of Bremen has received confirmation of the European Research Council's commitment of funds to the amount of about 3.4 million Euros. The renowned biologist from Bremen will use the funds in the coming five years to explore the deep-sea floor in the Arctic to unravel the role of the largely unknown bacterial communities living there.

"It is well known that over a billion bacterial cells live in each gram of deep-sea mud. Recently, we found that these belong to up to 10,000 different types of bacteria, most of which are unknown. Many of them are capable of deriving energy from the smallest amounts of algal detritus sinking to the sea floor, and to convert it to biomass. How they do this is still a mystery, but of great importance for the global carbon cycle, as well as the understanding of geological depositional processes and the diversity of life on the ocean floor," says Antje Boetius about her research topic.

The deep-sea research group headed by Antje Boetius has for years worked on the biological communities of the Arctic seabed at the institute's own deep-sea observatory "HAUSGARTEN" in the Fram Strait. With the "Advanced Grant" the European Research Council honours her work and provides the opportunity to explore in more detail the tiny "waste recyclers" in the marine sediment - especially with new, innovative methods, "I am very excited about this grant. It enables us for example to deploy modern under ice robots in the deep sea at the "HAUSGARTEN". We also intend to use new molecular techniques to search for unknown species of bacteria and understand what they are doing," says the scientist.

Her research project, funded by the Research Council with the maximum sum of 3.4 million Euros is called "ABYSS - Assessment of bacterial life and matter cycling in deep-sea surface sediments". Antje Boetius: "This award allows me to work with a network of superb scientists." These include researchers from the MARUM (Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen) as well as scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, from the universities Oldenburg, Vienna, Copenhagen and the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory (U.S).

The launch of this ground-breaking deep-sea research project is planned for the coming year. Antje Boetius intends to carry out a large proportion of the investigations at sea and at the deep-sea observatory of the Alfred Wegener Institute. "We still have to dive down to the bacteria, because most can not be cultured in the laboratory yet," says the scientist.

Notes for Editors: For a printable portrait of Prof. Antje Boetius, see the online version of this press release under <www.awi.de>. To learn more about the deep-sea research group at the Alfred Wegener Institute, please visit: <www.awi.de/en/research/deep_sea/>

Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius is available for interviews. She can be reached via email at Antje.Boetius@awi.de.

Your contact person at the Department of Communications and Media Relations is Sina Löschke (Tel: +49 (0)471 4831-2008, E-mail: Sina.Loeschke@awi.de).

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in oceans of mid and high latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides important infrastructure, e. g. the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic for international scientific research. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of 17 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organization in Germany.

idw :: 03.11.2011