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Grants for quirky ideas

The Villum Foundation supports two quirky ideas at Geoscience

Søren Munch Kristiansen and Henrieka Detlef have each received around DKK 2 million from Villum Experiment, which was created for technical and scientific research projects that challenge the norm and the way we approach important topics. The two research projects have received the grants to be able to test odd ideas that have the potential to change our knowledge of the world.

Fingerprinting displaced molecular substances and environmental health in deep history: archaeo-xenobiotics

Søren Munch Kristiansen receives DKK 2 million. DKK for the project ”Fingerprinting displaced molecular substances and environmental health in deep history: archaeo-xenobiotics”, in close collaboration with Martin Hansen (Department of Environmental Science) and Søren Michael Sindbæk (School of Culture and Society).

About the project:

The emergence of high-throughput big-data approaches such as genomics, lipidomics, and metabolomics is currently transforming science and revealing highly disturbing facts about the impact of anthropogenic substances on today’s environment. To understand the impact of these results in a broader perspective for environmental health, we need a solid historic baseline, which is still largely missing. However, in most climates, the nature of DNA is a major limitation for palaeo-environmental investigations as preferential loss and/or contamination may occur.

Our hypothesis is that a wide range of past human activities have left persistent, molecular traces and that application of a ‘multiomics’ approach can reveal key components of our understanding of the ongoing global environmental change, which have hitherto been untraceable even by state-of-the-art analyses. This project is to explore how contemporary environmental methods can be used to trace displaced substances, such as spices, medicine, stimulants, or drugs in past environments as examples of key vectors in a ‘deep’ history of human ecology. The same new methods also have a potential, so far untested, to unlock the historic impact of anthropogenic substances further back in time and in more types of archaeological stratigraphies.

Here, we propose to test the capacity of high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS), in combination with advanced computational methods, to trace contamination and consumption of anthropogenic, circulated substances in the past. This will be based on explorations of archaeological deposits combined with ancient coprolite and sewer samples covering the diet of earliest hunters in South America to the Norse farmers in Greenland, and from consumption within Rome to the global “spice trade” since the Middle Ages. If the analytical development succeeds, this study may fundamentally transform future research into global environmental changes.

Arctic copepod lipid markers as a new tool to reconstruct climate-driven ecosystem change

Henrieka Detlef receives DKK 1.99 million. DKK for the project ”Arctic copepod lipid markers as a new tool to reconstruct climate-driven ecosystem change”.

About the project:

Environmental monitoring studies are documenting the profound impact of anthropogenic climate change on marine ecosystems. Observations alone, however, do not cover the full range of projected climate scenarios making it difficult to predict the effect of continued warming on ecosystems. Studies of ecosystems during past warm periods in Earth history can fill this gap but are limited by the available methods. In particular, proxies for key organism groups, such as copepods are missing.

Copepods are microscopic crustaceans abundant in the world’s ocean. They have a large ecological importance in the food web, as they form the link between algae and larger organisms like fish and seabirds. As such, they might be sensitive indicators of ecosystem changes in response to climate.

With this Villum Experiment, I propose to test the potential of unique molecules produced by (sub)Arctic copepods to reconstruct their abundance in the past. I will test if these molecules are detectable and stable in marine sediments from around Greenland and if their abundance varies in accordance with changes in the ecosystem.


You can read more about this year's Villum Experiment recipients here.