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10.31.2013
Chemistry Colloquium - Francois Morel
"The biological use of cadmium in the ocean"

Presented by François Morel, Princeton University

Hosted by Ged Parkin

Thursday, October 31, 2013

1:30 – Meet the Speaker in room  328 Havemeyer
4:00 – Tea & Cookies in room 328 Havemeyer
4:30 – Seminar in room 209 Havemeyer


Cadmium is usually considered a toxic element with no biological function.  The distribution of Cd in the oceans suggests, however, that it may be taken up and used by marine phytoplankton.  This suggestion is confirmed by laboratory experiments showing increased growth rates in zinc-limited phytoplankton cultures amended with Cd. The effect is particularly evident under conditions of low CO2 concentrations hinting at a role for Cd as a replacement for Zn in a metalloprotein involved in inorganic carbon acquisition. These observations have led to the discovery of the only known native cadmium enzyme, a carbonic anhydrase, CDCA, that can use either Zn or Cd as its metal center. CDCA which has been fully characterized, plays an important role in the carbon concentrating mechanisms of diatoms, resulting in an unexpected link between the global cycles of Cd and CO2.


François M. M. Morel is the Albert G. Blanke Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University. He received a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Grenoble, France, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Science from the California Institute of Technology. He was a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1973 to 1994 and joined the Princeton faculty in 1994. The research in his laboratory focuses on the interaction of trace metals and microorganisms in the environment, with particular emphasis on the role of metals in the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen in marine and terrestrial systems. Morel’s research group discovered the only known cadmium enzyme, a cadmium carbonic anhydrase used by marine phytoplankton to acquire inorganic carbon for photosynthesis. At Princeton, Pr. Morel teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. Morel and his student Janet Hering authored the widely used teaching text: “Principles and Applications of Aquatic Chemistry (Wiley). He directed the Ralph M. Parsons laboratory at MIT from 1991 to 1994, the Princeton Environmental Institute from1998 to 2006 and the NSF-supported Center for Environmental BioInorganic Chemistry from 1998 to 2007.

Morel is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and of the Geochemical Society.  He received the Patterson Medal from the Geochemical Society in 2001, the Urey Medal from the American Geophysical Union in 2005, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the California Institute of Technology in 2009, and the Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology from the American Chemical Society in 2010. He is the recipient of the 2010 Eni Environmental Award from the Eni Foundation and of the 2012 Dickson Prize in the Sciences from Carnegie Melon University.