Marine researcher wins prestigious chemistry prize


The Organic Geochemistry Division of the Geochemical Society of America has awarded the 'Treibs Medal 2005' to Prof. Jaap Sinninghe Damsté of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) on Texel. This medal represents the highest international accolade in the field of organic geochemistry. Sinninghe Damsté will receive the prize during the 22nd International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry (IMOG), which will be held from 12-16 September in Seville (Spain).

Jaap Sinninghe Damsté receives the Treibs medal for his years of successful research into the biogeochemistry of fossilised carbon-based molecules in sediments. The Treibs medal is a gold medal, which is presented with a certificate. Sinninghe Damsté is the second NIOZ researcher to win the prize. In 1991 his mentor and Ph.D. supervisor Jan de Leeuw took the accolade.

Sinninghe Damsté (Baarn, 1 January 1959) has been head of the Marine Biogeochemistry and Toxicology Department of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research since 2002. This is the only fully-fledged oceanographic institute in the Netherlands and it is situated on the southern tip of the Wadden Sea island of Texel. Since 2003 Sinninghe has also been professor of molecular palaeontology at Utrecht University. In 2004 he was awarded a Spinoza prize by NWO, and in May 2005 he became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences KNAW).

Sinninghe Damsté studies marine sediments. He uses organic molecules derived from algae and bacteria, i.e. chemical fossils, to reconstruct the life and climate in previous epochs. Thanks to his Ph.D. research, theories about the worldwide carbon and sulphur cycles had to be revised. Later in his career Sinninghe Damsté discovered that archaea, formerly called 'ancient bacteria', not only occurred at extreme locations but were in fact widely distributed in the ocean. Moreover, just like plants, the archaea were found to grow using carbon dioxide as the carbon source, but with a chemical energy source instead of sunlight. His participation in the discovery of the anammox bacteria in the oxygen-deficient water layers in various oceans has had major consequences for the nitrogen cycle. These bacteria convert ammonia and nitrite into gaseous nitrogen that escapes from the sea into the atmosphere and is therefore lost from the marine food web.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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