Research Focus

Some trace metals such as iron and zinc are essential for life and their low concentrations sometimes limit the growth of organisms. Other metals such as mercury and cadmium are pollutants that sometimes reach toxic concentrations in the environment. Our research deals with the chemical and biological mechanisms that determine the transformations, the biological uptake, the physiological and ecological effects, and the global cycling of trace metals in the environment. 

By catalyzing biological transformations as cofactors of key enzymes, trace metals also play a critical role in the global cycles of the major elements of living matter, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (C, N and P). One of our research themes (sometimes called “environmental bioinorganic chemistry”) is the elucidation, at both the molecular and the global level, of the linkages between the cycles of trace metals and those of C, N and P.

We approach our work with a mix of laboratory and field experiments using a variety of chemical, microbiological, and genetic tools, as appropriate.  Our work is also informed by theoretical considerations from a number of disciplines ranging from bioinorganic chemistry to geology and ecology. 

Research Areas
Chemical Biology
Inorganic Chemistry

Einstein Professorship of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2011)

Elected to the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti (2011)

ENI Award for Protection of the Environment; ENI Foundation (2010)

Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology, American Chemical Society (2010)

Urey Medal, European Association for Geochemistry (2009)

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences (2009)

California Institute of Technology Distinguished Alumni Award (2009)

Maurice Ewing Medal, American Geophysical Union (2005)

Fellow, American Geophysical Union (2004)

Chairman, Gordon Research Conference on Environmental BioInorganic Chemistry (2002)

Guggenheim Fellow (2001-2002)

Albert G. Blanke Professorship, Princeton (1996)

AEEP Outstanding Paper Award (1994)

Selected Recent Publications

Zhang, X.; Sigman, D. M.; Morel, F. M. M.; Kraepiel, A. M. L., "Nitrogen isotope fractionation by alternative nitrogenases and past ocean anoxia." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2014, 111 (13), 4782-4787.

Bellenger, J. P.; Xu, Y.; Zhang, X.; Morel, F. M. M.; Kraepiel, A. M. L., "Possible contribution of alternative nitrogenases to nitrogen fixation by asymbiotic N-2-fixing bacteria in soils." Soil Biology & Biochemistry 2014, 69, 413-420.

Schaefer, J. K.; Szczuka, A.; Morel, F. M. M., "Effect of Divalent Metals on Hg(II) Uptake and Methylation by Bacteria." Environmental Science & Technology 2014, 48 (5), 3007-3013.

Losh, J. L.; Young, J. N.; Morel, F. M. M., "Rubisco is a small fraction of total protein in marine phytoplankton." New Phytologist 2013, 198 (1), 52-58.

Xu, Y.; Morel, F. M. M., "Cadmium in Marine Phytoplankton." In Cadmium: from Toxicity to Essentiality, Sigel, A.; Sigel, H.; Sigel, R. K. O., Eds. 2013; Vol. 11, pp 509-528.

lterio, V.; Langella, E.; Viparelli, F.; Vullo, D.; Ascione, G.; Dathan, N. A.; Morel, F. M. M.; Supuran, C. T.; De Simone, G.; Monti, S. M., "Structural and inhibition insights into carbonic anhydrase CDCA1 from the marine diatom Thalassiosira weissflogii." Biochimie 2012, 94 (5), 1232-1241.

Aristilde, L.; Xu, Y.; Morel, F. M. M., "Weak Organic Ligands Enhance Zinc Uptake in Marine Phytoplankton." Environmental Science & Technology 2012, 46 (10), 5438-5445.

Losh, J. L.; Morel, F. M. M.; Hopkinson, B. M., "Modest increase in the C:N ratio of N-limited phytoplankton in the California Current in response to high CO2." Marine Ecology Progress Series 2012, 468, 31-42.

u, Y.; Shi, D.; Aristilde, L.; Morel, F. M. M., "The effect of pH on the uptake of zinc and cadmium in marine phytoplankton: Possible role of weak complexes." Limnology and Oceanography 2012, 57 (1), 293-304.

Lomas, M. W.; Hopkinson, B. M.; Losh, J. L.; Ryan, D. E.; Shi, D. L.; Xu, Y.; Morel, F. M. M., "Effect of ocean acidification on cyanobacteria in the subtropical North Atlantic." Aquatic Microbial Ecology 2012, 66 (3), 211-222.

Shi, D.; Kranz, S. A.; Kim, J.-M.; Morel, F. M. M., "Ocean acidification slows nitrogen fixation and growth in the dominant diazotroph Trichodesmium under low-iron conditions." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012, 109 (45), E3094-E3100.

Hopkinson, B. M.; Dupont, C. L.; Allen, A. E.; Morel, F. M. M., Efficiency of the CO2-concentrating mechanism of diatoms." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011, 108 (10), 3830-3837.

Schaefer, J. K.; Rocks, S. S.; Zheng, W.; Liang, L.; Gu, B.; Morel, F. M. M., "Active transport, substrate specificity, and methylation of Hg(II) in anaerobic bacteria." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011, 108 (21), 8714-8719.

Egleston, E. S.; Sabine, C. L.; Morel, F. M. M., "Revelle revisited: Buffer factors that quantify the response of ocean chemistry to changes in DIC and alkalinity." Global Biogeochemical Cycles 2010, 24.

Shi, D.; Xu, Y.; Hopkinson, B. M.; Morel, F. M. M., "Effect of Ocean Acidification on Iron Availability to Marine Phytoplankton." Science 2010, 327 (5966), 676-679.

Viparelli, F.; Monti, S. M.; De Simone, G.; Innocenti, A.; Scozzafava, A.; Xu, Y.; Morel, F. M. M.; Supuran, C. T., "Inhibition of the R1 fragment of the cadmium-containing zeta-class carbonic anhydrase from the diatom Thalassiosira weissflogii with anions." Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters 2010, 20 (16), 4745-4748.

u, Y.; Boucher, J. M.; Morel, F. M. M., "Expression and diversity of alkaline phosphatase ehapi in emiliania huxleyi (prymnesiophyceae)." Journal of Phycology 2010, 46 (1), 85-92.

Hopkinson, B. M.; Xu, Y.; Shi, D.; McGinn, P. J.; Morel, F. M. M., "The effect of CO2 on the photosynthetic physiology of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Alaska." Limnology and Oceanography 2010, 55 (5), 2011-2024.

Malcolm, E. G.; Schaefer, J. K.; Ekstrom, E. B.; Tuit, C. B.; Jayakumar, A.; Park, H.; Ward, B. B.; Morel, F. M. M., "Mercury methylation in oxygen deficient zones of the oceans: No evidence for the predominance of anaerobes." Marine Chemistry 2010, 122 (1-4), 11-19.

Hopkinson, B. M.; Morel, F. M. M., "The role of siderophores in iron acquisition by photosynthetic marine microorganisms." Biometals 2009, 22 (4), 659-669.

Kraepiel, A. M. L.; Bellenger, J. P.; Wichard, T.; Morel, F. M. M., "Multiple roles of siderophores in free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria." Biometals 2009, 22 (4), 573-581.

Milligan, A. J.; Mioni, C. E.; Morel, F. M. M., "Response of cell surface pH to pCO(2) and iron limitation in the marine diatom Thalassiosira weissflogii." Marine Chemistry 2009, 114 (1-2), 31-36.

Schaefer, J. K.; Morel, F. M. M., "High methylation rates of mercury bound to cysteine by Geobacter sulfurreducens." Nature Geoscience 2009, 2 (2), 123-126.

Shi, D.; Xu, Y.; Morel, F. M. M., "Effects of the pH/pCO(2) control method on medium chemistry and phytoplankton growth." Biogeosciences 2009, 6 (7), 1199-1207.

Wichard, T.; Bellenger, J.-P.; Morel, F. M. M.; Kraepiel, A. M. L., "Role of the Siderophore Azotobactin in the Bacterial Acquisition of Nitrogenase Metal Cofactors." Environmental Science & Technology 2009, 43 (19), 7218-7224.