ASU biogeochemist receives prestigious scholarship

November 4, 2021

As a world renowned microbiologist and biogeochemist, Ferran Garcia Pichel has developed an understanding of the interconnectivity of science.

He studies microbial communities, examining how bacteria exist and interact within ecosystems – and what we can learn from the simplicity and adaptability of their mechanisms.

The American Geophysical Union recently appointed microbiologist and biogeochemist Ferran Garcia-Pichel Fellow AGU 2021. His work studies the roles, adaptations and impacts of microbes in natural environments ranging from desert soils to shallow marine waters. Photo by Jarod Opperman / ASU
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His unique ability to distill discoveries from simple observations has enabled us to make many influential discoveries. For example, the discovery of microbial sunscreens that allow survival in high stress and isolated environments has had implications ranging from biomedicine and global warming to interpretation of the first years of life on Earth.

Throughout his remarkable career, he has forged connections of global impact, fusing knowledge and approaches from disparate fields into entirely new disciplines and groundbreaking discoveries.

“I am proud of several discoveries on how microbes deal (or not) with difficult situations, because they represent moments conducive to learning our own behavior: how microbes protect themselves from the ravages of sunlight, or how their risky behaviors, such as hugging a walk, can influence their fate in the presence of epidemics, ”he said.

In recognition of his pioneering achievements, the American Geophysical Union recently appointed Garcia-Pichel as AGU 2021 Fellow.

AGU Fellows serve as global leaders and experts, pushing the boundaries of scientific understanding and working to create a healthier planet. Since 1962, the American Geophysical Union has elected less than 0.1% of the membership to join this prestigious group.

“For decades, Ferran Garcia-Pichel has made enormous contributions not only to the ASU community but to the scientific community as a whole,” said Kenro kusumi, dean of natural sciences of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of School of Life Sciences.

“His research has led to important discoveries that shape our collective understanding of microbial communities in their natural habitats. This prestigious distinction rewards his interdisciplinary approach to the study of microbes in ecosystems ranging from deserts to tropical islands.

Garcia-Pichel is a ASU Professor of Regents, Professor Virginia M. Ullman of the Environment at the School of Life Sciences and the founding director of the Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics Center at the Biodesign Institute.

He joined ASU in 2000. He was a key contributor to the founding of the School of Life Sciences – the first academic unit created under the vision of ASU President Michael Crow to a New American University.

He continued to bring disciplines together, serving as Dean of Natural Sciences at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and establishing seven ASU research centers.

Among its many distinctions, the AGU scholarship holds particular value.

“Over two decades ago, I was hired at ASU to strengthen the link between life sciences and geological sciences, even though my background was only tangentially interdisciplinary in this way. It was definitely a career challenge, ”said Garcia-Pichel.

“Receiving this recognition from the premier earth and space science society means to me that my decades-long efforts to put microbial science at the service of earth sciences have had a real impact through the world. pit. Of this I could not be more proud.

AGU was established in 1919 by the National Research Council and operated as an unincorporated branch of the National Academy of Sciences for over 50 years. They were incorporated as an independent company in 1972. Garcia-Pichel was elected by the Global Environmental Change section.

“The Fellowship Program was established in 1962 and recognizes AGU members who have made outstanding contributions to Earth and Space Sciences through a breakthrough, discovery or innovation in their field. Fellows act as external experts, able to advise government agencies and other organizations outside of science upon request, ”said a representative of the Union Fellows Program.

“Dr. Garcia-Pichel is specifically recognized for his pioneering research in environmental microbiology with applications ranging from Antiquity to the Anthropocene.

Garcia-Pichel is now one of six ASU professors who have received this distinguished honor, with Ariel anbar, professor to the president at the School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences, who was also elected this year.

“Ferran is the ideal recipient of this very prestigious scholarship due to his extraordinary creativity and unique intellectual contributions to science,” said Osvaldo Sala, who was appointed AGU member in 2019.

Sala is an ASU Julie A. Wrigley, Regents and Foundation Professor, and he contributes to both the School of Life Sciences and School of sustainability. He is also the founding director of the World Drylands Center and the leader of the Extremes focal zone, which is part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Laboratory of Global Futures.

“It merged the fields of microbiology and earth sciences to produce a new understanding of how life emerged on our planet and how it is currently being altered by humans,” Sala said of Garcia- Pichel. “In addition, he has successfully translated his new scientific understanding into solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems, such as global change and land degradation. “

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice-president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative at the School of Earth and Space Exploration; Nancy Grimm, Regents Professor and Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Ecology at the School of Life Sciences; and Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, are also AGU scholars.

Garcia-Pichel continues to focus much of his current work on dryland microbiology and looks forward to the possibilities that the future holds.

“I’m keeping this open, but I’m currently excited to explore the large-scale consequences of even the simplest microbial traits, like cell size,” he said.

“Who knows what’s next? Something exciting, I hope.

About Travis Durham

Travis Durham

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