17 January 2023 – When new EMBO Installation Grantee Jelena Godrijan first saw tiny microalgae called coccolithophores under an electron microscope, she recalls her astonishment at the beauty and diversity of this single-celled phytoplankton, whose distinctive bodies are covered with shells made of calcium carbonate. “Their cellular architecture is stunning, but they also play a major role in oxygen production and the global carbon cycle,” says Godrijan, who is based at the Ruđer Bošković Institute, Zagreb, Croatia. “I immediately wondered how something so tiny can have such an important impact on the marine environment?”
Coccolithophores are the only microscopic organisms that carry out both photosynthesis and calcification, and they alternate between two distinct life phases that are thought to help them adapt quickly to changing environments. But there is still a lot scientists do not know about them. “There are around 200 species of coccolithophores, but for the overwhelming majority we know little about their full life cycles,” Godrijan explains. “My team aims to solve some of the many remaining mysteries: hopefully the work can contribute to a better understanding of their function in ocean ecosystems, nutrient cycles, and how they are responding to climate change.”
“It feels incredible to receive an EMBO Installation Grant: my research is largely focused on ecology and diversity, and it provides an opportunity to build on my existing work and take new molecular directions. I will be able to establish and grow my team and work together with others in the EMBO communities. Moreover, the campus is very collaborative – one just needs to spend a few moments in the Institute’s canteen where almost every multidisciplinary interaction you can imagine happens. I can’t wait to get started,” says Godrijan.