Nicole Dubilier receives award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Max Planck researcher recognized for her marine research

December 06, 2012

Nicole Dubilier from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and MARUM of the University of Bremen, Germany, received the prestigious Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Marine Microbiology Initiative investigator award today. She is one of only 16 scientists selected through an open competition, and the only researcher from an institute outside of the USA. The award will provide between 200,000 – 500,000 US dollars per year over five years to pursue pioneering research in the field of marine microbial ecology. The Marine Microbiology Initiative investigators were chosen through an extensive review process that considered over 180 applications. Awardees demonstrated creativity, innovation and potential to make major, new breakthroughs in marine microbial ecology.

“We’re providing some of the Louis Pasteurs of this field with additional, flexible funding — above and beyond that which they may already be receiving — to give them more freedom to pursue bold, new discoveries,” said Steve McCormick, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Nicole Dubilier heads the Symbiosis Group at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology. Her research focuses on symbioses between marine animals and bacteria from exotic environments such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents as well as more easily accessible habitats such as sea-grass beds in the Mediterranean. Her most recent major breakthrough, published in Nature in 2011, revealed that deep-sea mussels have their own on-board “fuel cells” in the form of symbiotic bacteria that use hydrogen as an energy source.

Dubilier already has plans about how to spend the award. “I am delighted to receive this generous funding! It will allow me to develop new lines of research that are risky, but have the potential to lead to exciting discoveries. My goal is to show how important symbioses are for the Earth's oceans. They play a key role in sustaining life and supporting biodiversity in many marine environments, particularly where nutrients are limiting like the deep-sea."

Too often, the most innovative scientists are hampered by funding that binds them to a solid, but conservative research agenda, explained Bruce Alberts, a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation board member and editor-in-chief of Science magazine. The Moore Foundation investigator awards give scientists in marine microbiology the freedom and flexibility to take more risks, forge unusual collaborations and, ultimately, make noteworthy, new discoveries.

“Together, these scientists will challenge the way we think about our oceans,” added Chief Program Officer Vicki Chandler. “Marine microbes make up over 90 percent of the biomass in the ocean, and we know they are critically linked to ocean health and productivity. But even with the advances of the last eight years in understanding who these microbes are, we know little about what they do and how they interact. With these awards, we’re helping support and connect scientists from across different disciplines to identify and fill these gaps in existing knowledge.”

The funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will enable Dubilier and the other awardees to explore how the trillions of microscopic organisms at the base of the ocean’s food webs interact with each other and their environment. It will help scientists understand how the ocean’s most abundant yet smallest organisms affect the movement of nutrients in our oceans. The funding will also provide new insights—and lead to new and exciting questions—about our basic understanding of ocean ecosystems and pressing issues like climate change.


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