Christa Schleper: On the trail of primeval creatures in hot springs

Schleper then returned to Germany, where she habilitated in 2003 in the field of microbiology and genetics at the Technical University of Darmstadt. A year later, the mother of two children moved to the University of Bergen in Norway. In 2007 she followed the call to Vienna, where she became head of the department for genetics in ecology at the University of Vienna. At the same time Schleper’s husband, the developmental biologist Ulrich Technau, moved from Bergen to a professorship at the University of Vienna. In 2011, the Neo-Wittgenstein Prize winner identified an archaeon in soil samples from the institute’s former location in Vienna-Alsergrund. “Nitrososphaera viennensis” turned out to be widespread and important for nitrogen degradation in soils.

Until 2014 she continued to work as an adjunct professor at the University of Bergen. This connection also led to participation in the discovery in 2015 of so-called Loki or Asgard archaea in samples from undersea volcanic areas near Iceland, a special single-celled group that turned out to be the closest relatives of living things with a cell nucleus (eukaryotes). As a result, Schleper and her team also succeeded in cultivating these creatures in the laboratory.

150 scientific publications

In 2016, the scientist, who heads the Department of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology and the Archaea Biology and Ecogenomics Research Group at the University of Vienna, received an “Advanced Grant” from the European Research Council (ERC) in the amount of around 2 5 million euros for research into these two archaea groups. On the one hand, these promise new insights into the early development of the more complex life, on the other hand, the participation of the microorganisms in the breakdown of nitrogen makes us think of more sustainable forms of fertilizer use.

To date, Schleper has been responsible for around 150 scientific publications. In 2019 and 2020, the data company Clarivate Analytics listed them among the “Highly Cited Researchers”, i.e. in the illustrious group that represents the top one percent of the most cited scientists. In 2017, the microbiologist was admitted to the Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) as a “real member of the mathematical and scientific class”. The following year, Schleper became a member of the “European Molecular Biology Organization” (EMBO).

In recent semesters, the Wittgenstein Prize winner organized a lecture on the climate crisis at the University of Vienna. In the run-up to the award ceremony, Schleper also emphasized to the APA how important and attractive research in the field is for her. In their case, these are mostly hot springs. The scientist can look back on numerous expeditions to Japan, the Azores, Iceland, the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east of Russia and Italy.

More information about her research area: https://archaea.univie.ac.at

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