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MARUM Research Award for Stefan Becker

Feb 8, 2019

For his dissertation "Biocatalytic quantification of laminarin – a major carbohydrate polymer in the ocean" Stefan Becker receives this years' MARUM Research Award. The award is presented to young marine scientists who have written out­stand­ing mas­ter's or doc­toral theses.

“I am very grateful that my PhD thesis is being rewarded with the MARUM Research Award for Marine Sciences”, says Becker, who now works as a PostDoc in the MARUM MPG Bridge Group Mar­ine Gly­cobi­o­logy, located both at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and the MARUM - Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences of the University of Bremen. “This achievement was only possible with the indispensable support of my colleagues, collaborators and friends”, Becker continues. “I would particularly like to thank my mentor Jan-Hendrik Hehemann for placing his trust in me when the group was just started in 2015.”

Stefan Becker
Stefan Becker (© MPIMM, A. Kegel)

Studying bioenergy in the ocean

In his work, Becker provides evidence that laminarin, the energy storage sugar of tiny marine algae, is a central bioenergy molecule of the ocean. To reach this conclusion, Becker developed a new technology during his thesis to quantify laminarin. This biocatalytic assay makes use of the enzymatic toolkit of marine microbes. These microbes evolved specific enzymes in order to gain energy and carbon from the abundant carbohydrates.

The first comprehensive quantification, which Becker now conducted, yielded an average contribution of laminarin to the carbon in algae derived organic matter of astonishing 37±19 percent in the environment. This highlights the ecological relevance of laminarin by its sheer abundance of more than one third of the particulate organic carbon in surface waters. “My work contributes to our general understanding of the marine carbon cycle in the surface water of the ocean”, Becker explains.

In this environment, microalgae sustain approximately half of the global primary production and yield significant amounts of organic carbon in the form of polysaccharides such as laminarin. “So far, the role of this class of biological macromolecules in the carbon cycle is poorly understood due to the technological challenges in their analysis. The quantification of a single marine polysaccharide on a broad scale has therefore never been done before. Our new approach starts to close this gap of knowledge and technology.”

The MARUM Research Award for Marine Sciences

The MARUM - Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences of the University of Bremen an­nu­ally is­sues the MARUM Re­search Award for Mar­ine Sci­ences. This prize is awar­ded to out­stand­ing mas­ter's or doc­toral theses that have been writ­ten over the past two years by young mar­ine sci­ent­ists at the Uni­versity of Bre­men. The prize money of up to € 3,000 is to be used as a schol­ar­ship and is in­ten­ded to be­ne­fit the sci­entific ob­ject­ives of the awardee.

"The MARUM awards the re­search prize in re­cog­ni­tion of out­stand­ing achieve­ments by young sci­ent­ists," says MARUM dir­ector Prof. Mi­chael Schulz. "As a cluster of ex­cel­lence, the qual­i­fied train­ing of young sci­ent­ists is par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant to us in or­der to cre­ate the best pos­sible con­di­tions for young people for their fu­ture ca­reers."

The MARUM Re­search Award for Mar­ine Sci­ences is awar­ded in co­oper­a­tion with the "Ver­ein zur För­der­ung der wis­senschaft­lichen Forschung in der Freien Hans­estadt Bre­men (VFwF e.V.)"

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