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David Karl

David Karl, the Victor and Peggy Brandstrom Pavel professor of oceanography and director of the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) at the University of Hawaiʻi has been honored with the 2015 DuPont Award in Applied and Environmental Microbiology from the American Society for Microbiology, the largest professional life sciences society in the world. With this award, the American Society for Microbiology recognizes “outstanding accomplishment” in research and development in environmental microbiology.

“Science is a team sport,” said Karl. “The recognition of this award is shared with my many students, post-docs and staff who carry out much of the work, and through enduring collaborations with colleagues from around the world.”

However, for decades, Karl had been a leader in the field of microbial oceanography even having a hand in creating the discipline. Investigating the smallest inhabitants of our planet, Karl has logged more than 1,000 days conducting research at sea including 23 expeditions to Antarctica. In 1979 Karl participated in the first biology expedition to the Galapagos hydrothermal vents where microorganisms abound in the absence of sunlight.

The global significance of microbes

Though the organisms he studies are small, the implications of Karl’s findings are huge. Karl co-founded the Hawaiʻi Ocean Time-series (HOT) program that has measured physical, biogeochemical and microbial characteristics at Station ALOHA every month for the past 26 years, providing a cornerstone in our understanding of the ocean’s role in regulating climate and global nutrient cycles, for example. In 2006, he led a team of scientists in the establishment of a new NSF-supported Science and Technology Center at UH. The center, C-MORE, conducts collaborative research on marine microorganisms from genomes to biomes, and has a vital training mission to help prepare the next generation of microbial oceanographers. Last year he and UH colleague Ed DeLong established the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE) to enhance understanding of how microbes control the flow of energy and material in the open sea.

Karl has written or co-authored more than 370 research papers and reviews, and he has received numerous awards and honors including the Alexander Agassiz Medal from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Karl is also an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

“My contributions to the field of microbial oceanography would not have been possible without funding from the National Science Foundation who have supported my research continuously since 1978, and the generous support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Agouron Institute, the Simons Foundation, and the University of Hawaiʻi,” said Karl.

In good company

The DuPont Award has been given annually since 1977 to some of the leading microbial ecologists, including two of Karl’s mentors Ken Nealson and Holger Jannasch; former director of the National Science Foundation Rita Colwell; and UH oceanography professor Ed DeLong.

“I am both honored and humbled to receive the DuPont Award in environmental microbiology and to join the impressive list of previous award recipients,” said Karl.

The 2015 award will be presented to Karl on May 31 at a banquet at the ASM annual meeting in New Orleans. The award consists of a $2,500 cash prize, a commemorative piece, and $2,000 to defray travel expenses to the annual meeting made possible through the generosity of the DuPont Industrial Biosciences Company, the corporate sponsor of this award. The following day, he will deliver the annual DuPont Lecture “Microbial Oceanography; Challenges and Opportunities in a Sea of Change.”

Largest ever private award to UH funds microbial oceanography research

—By Marcie Grabowski

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