Eric Karsenti, biologist and scientific director of the Tara Oceans expedition, has been awarded the Gold Medal of the CNRS. Highest honorary title in the French world of science, this prestigious award acknowledges his career and the importance of his latest work on the planktonic world, carried out during the Tara Oceans expedition.
As director of the expedition’s scientific team between 2009 and 2012, Eric Karsenti helped to significantly advance our understanding of marine world biodiversity and opened a new frontier in knowledge of the Ocean. For the first time almost all viruses, bacteria and small eukaryotes have been characterized. In some kingdoms the number of identified organisms has increased from 10,000 to almost 150,000.
Dr. Karsenti directed the Tara Oceans expedition for 4 years, with support from the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), the EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory), and the CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission). He explains that initially “the idea was to better understand the origin of plankton, its evolution, its transformation from ocean to ocean. What were its distribution and biodiversity? Were all these kingdoms connected? What was the influence of the environment – temperature, salinity, acidity, physico-chemical parameters – on these strange creatures?”
Today marine ecosystems are subjected to all kinds of pressure. Tara Oceans will help to better understand the response of marine life to climate change, thanks to the new predictive models being developped.
Before participating in these major discoveries aboard the schooner Tara, Eric Karsenti studied biophysics at the Paris Faculty of Sciences. After his PhD from the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1979, he contributed largely to the understanding of molecular mechanisms that govern the cell cycle. He also worked with physicists and developped a new approach in cell biology that revealed how the shape of cells and their division arise from complex and dynamic molecular interactions. He created the Department of Cell Biology and Biophysics at the EMBL.
Today the CNRS Gold Medal Award brings wide recognition to major discoveries in a little-known world that has until now rarely been taken into account in making decisions about the global environment.