University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 083/2021, 29 June 2021
New core facility for stable isotopes strengthens ecology and environmental research at the University of Bayreuth
The University of Bayreuth is establishing an interdisciplinary central laboratory on its campus, the Bayreuth Centre for Stable Isotopes in Ecology & Biogeochemistry (BayCenSI). The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the new facility from its "Core Facilities" programme for the next three years to the tune of € 560,000. Subsequent follow-up funding of € 315,000 is planned. BayCenSI builds on the expertise of the existing Laboratory of Isotope Biogeochemistry, and will be integrated into the Bayreuth Centre of Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER).
Stable isotopes are non-radioactive atoms of chemical elements that differ in the number of neutrons in their atomic nucleus and thus in their nuclear mass. All isotopes of an element behave the same chemically, but they differ slightly in their physical properties. As a result, characteristic "isotopic fingerprints" are generated during natural substance transformations, the analysis of which allows important conclusions to be drawn about processes and matter fluxes in ecosystems. The use of stable isotopes has become increasingly important in ecology and environmental research in recent years. Important new findings, for example, about food webs, carbon and nutrient cycles, and anthropogenic pressure in ecosystems, have thus been obtained.
"With the support of DFG, the University of Bayreuth is hereby investing in a highly timely and very dynamic field. Our goal is to establish isotope research in Bayreuth that will allow us to explore processes in ecosystems across different spatial and temporal scales: from the molecular level to large-scale landscapes, from rapid chemical reactions to long-term changes under the influence of climate change," says Prof. Dr. Johanna Pausch, Junior Professor of Agroecology at the University of Bayreuth. Together with Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff (Soil Ecology) and Prof. Dr. Tillmann Lüders (Ecological Microbiology), she successfully applied to the DFG for funding for BayCenSI.
BayCenSI's technological infrastructure will allow to detect minute variations in the abundance of natural isotopes in the environment, but also to analyse labelling experiments with a high abundance of heavy isotopes. Light isotopes in molecules can be specifically exchanged for heavy isotopes in order to study the transformation and transport of the "labelled" molecules in biological processes. BayCenSi creates central infrastructures that give scientists access to the latest technology, enabling analyses for a vast range of applications, also for checking the origin and authenticity of food and medicines.
"In the new central laboratory, we will also integrate technologies for the temporally high resolution detection of gas isotopes, which are important in the investigation of air pollution, among other things. And with the help of laser beams, we will determine changes in the isotope abundance of trace gases in the field, for example, in order to be able to track precisely substance turnover by microbes in forests and agricultural areas. We will make stable isotopes visible at the micrometre scale," explains Prof. Dr Gerhard Gebauer, Head of the previous Laboratory of Isotope Biogeochemistry at BayCEER.
BayCenSI will further strengthen research in ecological and environmental science at the University of Bayreuth and provide scientists with advice on planning and conducting such experiments. Research groups from universities and research institutions beyond Bayreuth will also be able to use the BayCenSI infrastructure to test new research ideas. Workshops and summer schools will offer students, PhD students, and postdocs the opportunity to learn about innovative applications of isotope analysis and their technological requirements.
BayCenSI is to be jointly managed by Prof. Dr. Johanna Pausch and Prof. Dr. Gerhard Gebauer. The two will be supported by a steering committee including Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff, Prof. Dr. Tillmann Lüders, and Dr. Birgit Thies (BayCEER).