- Hello Daniel, so what brought you to Singapore?
I have been working for 35 years in Roscoff at the Biological Station which is a joint laboratory between CNRS and Sorbonne Université. Being a diver and loving to travel, I had been many times to South East Asia, the first time in 1979. My wife was offered a position at NTU Singapore two years ago and I decided to follow her, obtaining for a Visiting Professor position in the Asian School of the Environment. Having retired from CNRS last year, but still being an Emeritus Research Director at CNRS, I am now full time in Singapore.
- Can you explain your research topics in a few words?
I am working on marine phytoplankton, the microscopic organisms that are responsible for production half of the oxygen we breath, cooling our planet by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sustaining the entire marine life. In France I built a research group in Roscoff around plankton studies. My main interests concern biodiversity and biogeography of phytoplankton. They are extremely diverse, belonging virtually to all branches of the tree of life. But we still know very little about the species that compose phytoplankton and their biology has been little studied. We do not know which group/species thrive in the oceanic environment especially the central waters of the blue ocean (e.g. the central Pacific). In the last 10 years novel method of DNA sequencing have been very useful to quickly determine species composition of marine samples. I am currently developing databases that allow to interpret these DNA data and get a better grasp on what controls the distribution of specific groups (light, nutrients, temperature).
- What types of applications do your research activities lead to?
A quick answer will be “I do not care about applications”. As “born and raised by CNRS”, I believe in acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge or more precisely for understanding the world in which we are living. I believe in serendipity that has played an important role in bringing truly transformative ideas and concepts about our world. For example, 35 years ago we thought that there was no plankton in the central region of the oceans. And then by using novel techniques, researchers have found that indeed these areas are full of plankton but so tiny that an ordinary microscope could not detect. This discovery has completely changed our vision of the food webs in the oceans.
But indeed our work has many applications… Twenty years I created an open collection of marine phytoplankton cultures in Roscoff which has grown to be the largest in the world: many of the cultures we have isolated are now distributed to private companies working in aquaculture or cosmetics. Another area of application is climate change. If we want to understand how our planet is responding to increased temperature we need to understand how phytoplankton, which consumes as much CO2 as the terrestrial vegetation globally, will adapt to this changes.
- What do you think of the research in Singapore?
In my precise domain, it is still very marginal. If I extend to the domain of marine science and oceanography, while Singapore sits in an ideal position between 2 oceans, the Pacific and the Indian, it has absolutely no oceanography research while it could be a leader in this domain. This reflects what plagues research in Singapore, being only focused on what is directly relevant to Singapore and not looking at the big picture. For example the only aspect of climate change they fund is Sea Level research because it sea level rise may affect Singapore. This is very narrow minded in my opinion.
- Are you currently collaborating with French and/or Singaporean institutes ?
As mentioned above, I am still part of CNRS so I have active collaboration with my colleagues in France, especially in Roscoff. In Singapore, as a visiting Professor, I do not have access to grant application. So while I am working on an informal basis with people of the Asian School of the Environment, I do not have funds to persue more active collaboration.
- How does the COVID-19 pandemic affects your work?
Personally as I am working more on data analysis, the COVID pandemic did not affect me so much. However several projects have been delayed. For example, we were planning to hold the third South East Asia School in Microbial Ecology (ASIAME) in Philippines last summer and this got delayed. We are also planning a workshop between NTU and Sorbonne Université to discuss future collaborative research in marine science and this got also delayed. All these delays will affect future research.