Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

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Current positions

  • Senior scientist in the Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry of NIOZ
  • Member Scientific Advisory Board of the biotech company CyanoBiotech GmbH, Berlin

Research interests

My general research interests are about the generation and role of the diversity of microorganisms in marine (and occasionally other) environments and their ecology and activities. More specifically, I study cyanobacteria, oxygenic phototrophic bacteria, and also known as blue-green algae. Cyanobacteria are considered to produce half of the oxygen on Earth, the other half is produced by plants and eukaryotic algae. But even so, the chloroplast in the latter organisms is responsible for the production of oxygen and has been derived from cyanobacteria through endosymbiosis. Cyanobacteria were responsible for the oxygenation of the Earth’s atmosphere 2.5 billion year ago. Cyanobacteria are also responsible for the half of the global fixation of the nitrogen from the air and for 100% of the nitrogen fixation in the ocean. These organisms are thus fertilizing the ocean and are therefore responsible for the primary production and are at the basis of the food chain. Cyanobacteria form so-called microbial mats in intertidal areas. Microbial mats are benthic communities that are typically vertically stratified         

Personal motivation

I have always been wondering about life, its origin, and how it evolved. I chose to specialize in microbiology (more specifically microbial ecology) and in molecular genetics because I initially thought that their combination gives me the knowledge and tools that would allow me to get to the bottom of these basic questions of life. The geologist Wolfgang Krumbein opened my eyes and convinced me that geology was the discipline I would need to address the problem of the origin and evolution of life on Earth (and elsewhere in the Universe). I always regretted that it was exactly geology that I decided to drop during my study biology. Geomicrobiology and Biogeochemistry are disciplines that allow the study of the planet Earth in its most comprehensive way and not only give clues of the past but also helps to understand the present functioning of our living planet and how global change may alter it. While the Ocean covers more than 70% of the surface of the Earth and considering its volume and including the deep biosphere of the ocean floor, it is key to all processes on Earth and therefore an obvious subject for my studies. It has been a privilege to be part of the scientific community who worked together to understand the system Earth and to find answers to the pressing questions that our society is confronted with. More recently, the fundamental research questions I have been working on changed to more applied ones, after I realized that the vast microbial diversity hold promises for many biotechnological applications.       

Education and previous positions

Lucas J. Stal studied biology at the University Groningen (Netherlands), specializing in microbial ecology and molecular genetics and received his master’s degree in November 1978. Subsequently, he worked from 1979 – 1988 as a scientist and assistant professor Geomicrobiology at the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany (Prof. W.E. Krumbein). He defended his PhD thesis ‘Nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria in a marine microbial mat’ in November 1985 at the University Groningen (Prof. H. Veldkamp). From 1988 – 1996 Lucas Stal was associate professor Aquatic Microbiology at the University of Amsterdam and from 1996 – 2016 he was Head of the Department of Marine Microbiology of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) (from 2012: NIOZ) in Yerseke and since 2016 senior scientist in the Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry at NIOZ-Texel. From 2007 – 2017 Lucas Stal occupied a special chair in Marine Microbiology at the University of Amsterdam. He was further a visiting scientist at the University of Dundee, Scotland (1986, Prof. W.D.P. Stewart), University of Uppsala, Sweden (1987, Prof. B. Bergman), a Fulbright Fellow at Institute of Marine Sciences, North Carolina, USA (1992, Prof. H.W. Paerl), visiting professor microbiology at the University Miguel Hernandez, San Juan de Alicante, Spain (2002, Prof. F. Rodriguez-Valera), and visiting scientist and advisor of the biotech company Cyano-Biofuels Berlin GmbH (now Algenol), Berlin, Germany (2010, CEO Dr. D. Kramer). Lucas Stal retires at the end of 2017.