(1) intact polar and core membrane lipids of archaea, bacteria and algae using novel analytical approaches and their application in microbial ecology
(2) development of proxies based on organic compounds for paleoclimate studies
(3) application of organic proxies in palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstruction of the past 200 million years on a variety of time scales
(1) Senior research leader, Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry, NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, and Utrecht University, PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands,
(2) Professor of Organic Geochemistry, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University (UU), Budapestlaan 4, 3584 CD Utrecht, the Netherlands. Tel +31 30-2535117.
Member of the Koninklijke Hollandse Maatschappij der Wetenschappen since 2016.
Member of Member of Council for Earth and Life Sciences of the KNAW (RAL) (2008-2013)
Director of the Netherlands Earth System Science Center (NESSC) (2014-2018).
Member of the steering committee of the Soehngen Institute of Anaerobic Microbiology (2014-2018).
2020 Elected member of the Academia Europaea
2021 ISI Highly Cited Researcher in Cross-field
Ten characteristic publications
1. Sinninghe Damsté J.S., Rijpstra W.I.C., Kock-van Dalen A.C., de Leeuw J.W. and Schenck P.A. (1989) Quenching of labile functionalised lipids by inorganic sulphur species: Evidence for the formation of sedimentary organic sulphur compounds at the early stages of diagenesis. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 53, 1343-1355.
Description of the mechanism of the formation of organic sulfur in sediments, a process that at that time was basically not understood although it has large implications (e.g. the presence of organic sulfur in fossil fuels).
One of the first examples of the application of isorenieratene, a biomarker for photosynthetic but anaerobic green sulfur bacteria. This study showed that the recent shoaling of the chemocline of the Blacke Sea, thought to be a consequence of the increased use of river water for irrigation of incoming river water, also happened in the geological past and may, thus, also have a natural origin.
3. Kuypers M.M.M.*, Pancost R. and Sinninghe Damsté J.S. (1999) A large and abrupt fall in atmospheric CO2 concentrations during Cretaceous times. Nature 399, 342-345. (*PhD student of JSSD).
First evidence based on the stable carbon isotopic composition of fossil leaf waxes for a major drop in the atmospheric CO2 concentration during the widespread burial of organic carbon in deep sea sediments during the Cenomanian/Turonian Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.
4. Pancost R.*, Sinninghe Damsté J.S., de Lint S., van der Maarel M.J.E.C., Gottschal J.C. and the Medinaut Shipboard Scientific Part (2000) Biomarker evidence for widespread anaerobic methane oxidation in Mediterranean sediments by a consortium of methanogenic archae and bacteria. Appl. Env. Microbiol. 66, 1126-1132. (*post-doc of JSSD).
First stable carbon isotopic evidence that sulfate-reducing bacteria participate in a consortium with archaea to anaerobically oxidize methane at the seafloor.
5. Sinninghe Damsté J.S., Strous M., Rijpstra W.I.C., Hopmans E.C., Geenevasen J.A.J., van Duin A.C.T., van Niftrik L.A. and Jetten M.S.M. (2002) Linearly concatenated cyclobutane (ladderane) lipids form a dense bacterial membrane. Nature 419, 708-712.
Discovery of chemically unprecedented membrane lipids that fulfill an essential role in the physiology of bacteria able to oxidize ammonium anaerobically. Structure later confirmed by total synthesis in the group of the Nobel Prize (1990) winner James Corey.
6. Sinninghe Damsté J.S., Hopmans E.C., Schouten S., van Duin A.C.T. and Geenevasen J.A.J. (2002) Crenarchaeol: The characteristic core glycerol dibiphytanyl glycerol tetraether membrane lipid of cosmopolitan pelagic crenarchaeota. J. Lipid Res. 43, 1641-1651.
Elucidation of the characteristic membrane spanning tetraether lipid crenarchaeol by isolation and high-field 2D NMR studies. In contrast to other archaeal lipids it contains a six-membered ring formed by internal cyclisation which may be an adaptation of thermophilic archaea to cope with mesophilic conditions in the oceans.
7. Schouten S., Hopmans, E.C., Schefuß, E. and Sinninghe Damsté J.S. (2002) Distributional variations in marine crenarchaeotal membrane lipids: a new tool for reconstructing ancient sea water temperatures? Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett. 204, 265-274.
First description and calibration of a paleothermometer that is based on subtle temperature-related adaptations of the cell membrane of archae living in the ocean. This method is currently used in palaeoceanography and palaeoclimatology in laboratories worldwide to estimate temperatures of the ocean up to 200 million years ago and its application has led to important discoveries concerning past climate changes.
8. Sinninghe Damsté J.S., Muyzer G., Abbas B., Rampen S.W., Massé G., Allard W.G., Belt S.T., Robert J.-M., Rowland S.J., Moldowan J.M., Barbanti S.M., Fago F.J., Denisevich P., Dahl J., Trindade L.A.F. and Schouten S. (2004) The rise of the rhizosolenoid diatoms. Science 304, 584-587.
First combination of 18S rRNA gene phylogeny with the molecular fossil record to understand the evolution of a major group of phytoplankton (now responsible for 25% of the primary productivity on Earth) in the ocean in the last 100 million year. Forms the theoretical basis for the concept of “age-related biomarkers” widely applied in petroleum exploration.
9. Wuchter C.*, Abbas B., Coolen M.J.L., Herfort L., van Bleijswijk J., Timmers P., Strous M., Teira E., Herndl G.J., Middelburg J.J., Schouten S. and Sinninghe Damsté J.S. (2006) Archaeal nitrification in the ocean. PNAS 103, 12317-12322. (*PhD student of JSSD).
This study showed that archaea in the ocean are involved in the oxidation of ammonium, a process that at that time was thought to be exclusively performed by nitrifying bacteria. This study, after the publication of a nitrifying archaeon isolated from an aquarium in 2005, showed for the first time the significance of archaeal nitrification in coastal and open ocean settings and its important role in the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle.
10. Weijers J.W.H.*, Schouten S., van den Donker J.C., Hopmans E.C. and Sinninghe Damsté J.S. (2007) Environmental controls on bacterial tetraether membrane lipid distribution in soils. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 71, 703-713. (*PhD student of JSSD).
This study forms the basis for a new continental palaeothermometer based on membrane lipids (identified earlier by Sinninghe Damsté) that are produced in soils (and rivers and lakes) by bacteria. This paleothermometer is now applied worldwide by many laboratories to perform reconstruction of past continental temperature.