Studying a Hidden, Globally Significant Biosphere
Researcher Steffen Leth Jørgensen is the Centre for Geobiology’s (CGB) 3rd successful Bergen Research Foundation’s Recruitment Programme candidate.
Leth Jørgensen’s Project:
Unveiling the Deep Marine Biosphere: from Empirical Observation to Process Quantification
“An immense microbial biosphere is hidden beneath the ocean floor, where it controls the partitioning of elements between Earth’s surface and the deep subsurface. This has profound implications for the geochemical composition of the oceans, propagating to the atmosphere and long-term climate variability. Our ability to interpret empirical observations is severely limited by the fact that the majority of the more than 1029 microbial cells belong to uncharacterized lineages. This lack of knowledge concerning microbial physiology obscures critical geomicrobial interactions, leaving process models unconstrained and our understanding rudimentary”
Leth Jørgensen adds that the knowledge he hopes to generate in his project is crucial to helping this research field make the transition from establishing empirical associations to understanding the fundamental processes and mechanisms involved; a task that has been called one of the major challenges of the 21st century.
BFS Recruitment Programme
2016 is the 10th time Bergen Research Foundation (BFS) has launched a Call for its Recruitment Programme. The Call is open to all Departments and Faculties at the University of Bergen (UiB). The Programme aims to contribute to the recruitment and development of world-class leaders in various research fields at UiB by helping to recruit young national or international candidates with outstanding academic merit and research potential. Its goal is to give them a “kick-start”: a particularly good framework and conditions to help them realise their potential to achieve international excellence. This year, Steffen Leth Jørgensen, from the Centre for Geobiology (CGB) is one of 5 candidates to be selected. (Read more about the award ceremony here)
See a short video about BFS
Steffen Leth Jørgensen
Leth Jørgensen says that there are very few opportunities for a young researcher to establish themselves and build up a research group. Being selected as a BFS candidate is one of them. Being awarded such a grant enables a young scientist to think in longer terms, about a larger research picture. It facilitates the strengthening and expanding of networks and collaborations as well as making it possible to begin and establish a local research node and to build up a team of researchers.
Leth Jørgensen also highlights that BFS grants provide essential support for cutting-edge, and high-risk, basic research projects. In order to make fundamental progress in research, he says, you need to go where nobody has been before, and this, by definition involves a certain degree of risk.
Leth Jørgensen will lead a new research group that will investigate the largely unexplored deep marine biosphere. The project aims to identify and characterise more of the unique microbes living there so that their activity can be measured and quantified enabling researchers to have better understanding of the potential impact on global processes.
Deep Marine Biosphere
In the last three decades researchers have identified an immense but poorly studied biosphere underneath the sea floor, buried up to several kilometres into the sediments. The deep marine biosphere is estimated to contain more than 1029 microbial organisms; about 10% of all the living biomass on Earth. Sustained by energy derived from chemical reactions, their microbial activity impacts the chemical composition of the oceans and the atmosphere and affects the global cycling of important elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and sulphur.
Leth Jørgensen describes himself being primarily interested in the ecological relevance of the deep marine biosphere. Putting together an ecological picture starts with the finest details: identifying and characterising the microbes involved and identifying their metabolic processes and interactions. This knowledge is then combined with environmental data such as local geochemical conditions, geology and energy availability. Finally, the information compiled is assessed on global scales to provide insights about earth-system dynamics and element cycles.
Leth Jørgensen’s project will build on the work begun at CGB to establish geobiology as an interdisciplinary field at UiB. It will serve as an invaluable bridge for this activity as CGB reaches the end of its Centre of Excellence period and the work continues both at the Department of Earth Science and at the newly established K.B. Jebsen Centre for Deep Sea Research.
It will also reinforce the many local, national and international partnerships Leth Jørgensen has established during his research career; collaborations that are critical for such cutting-edge, high risk, and costly research activity. These networks are an important “value added” aspect of the BFS funding.
Background to Leth Jørgensen’s proposal can be found in two important publications:
- PNAS: Correlating microbial community profiles with geochemical data in highly stratified sediments from the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge
- Nature: Complex archaea that bridge the gap between prokaryotes and eukaryotes
Read more from the CGB website:
- Norwegian CoEs behind major scientific breakthroughs
- CGB research featured in PNAS
- Excellent Results from a Centre of Excellence
- No Question Too Big!
- Interview with Steffen Leth Jørgensen from the research cruise summer 2008
- Leth Jørgensen’s PhD 2013 (in Norwegian)
- Leth Jørgensen spends 2 months at sea analysing sediments on an IODP research cruise (blog)
- Early work on Archaea with Christa Schleper
- CGB research theme working with “omics” approaches