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Fuhrman Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

USC Dornsife’s Jed Fuhrman researches how complex marine microbial systems interact and change over time, resulting in problems such as climate change.

Marine microbial biodiversity expert Jed Fuhrman, McCulloch-Crosby Chair of Marine Biology and professor of biological sciences in USC Dornsife, has been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Corey Arnold.
Marine microbial biodiversity expert Jed Fuhrman, McCulloch-Crosby Chair of Marine Biology and professor of biological sciences in USC Dornsife, has been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Corey Arnold.

Jed Fuhrman, McCulloch-Crosby Chair of Marine Biology and professor of biological sciences in USC Dornsife, has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Established in 1780, the academy is among the world’s most prestigious honorary societies.

Joining USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Robert C. Packard President’s Chair and the Malcolm R. Currie Chair in Technology and the Humanities, Fuhrman is among 186 fellows and a dozen foreign honorary members newly elected to the academy. Fellows are prominent figures from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts. Among them are more than 250 Nobel Prize laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Fuhrman’s election brings the number of Academy fellows at USC Dornsife to 20.

“Jed’s pioneering research on marine microbial systems has far-reaching implications for the future of our planet and its natural resources,” said USC Dornsife Dean Steve Kay. “We are so proud that our colleague and friend has once again been recognized for the critical advances he has made and will continue to make in his field.”

Fuhrman was humbled to be elected into the Academy, founded during the American Revolution by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other leaders who established the new nation, its government and Constitution.

“This certainly makes me feel honored and appreciated by my colleagues,” Fuhrman said. “It’s wonderful to be elected to a society whose early members included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and later on Albert Einstein and so many others.”

Fuhrman researches the roles of micro-organisms in natural marine ecosystems and the cycling of matter in the ocean — from the microscopic scale to the global scale. He also measures human pathogenic viruses at beaches as a potential health hazard, and works to make such measurements relatively easy and inexpensive.

In one study, Fuhrman is examining the composition and complexity of marine microbial communities that are critical components of the Earth system. They draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to make organic compounds and provide half the oxygen we breathe. This process of photosynthesis is the foundation of life in the sea and on land.

Fuhrman and other researchers with the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, housed in USC Dornsife, are investigating how marine microbial communities respond to natural events and human-induced disturbances such as wastewater release. They are looking at which organisms thrive, which don't and how the communities adjust and function over time.

“The water we drink and the air that we breathe, including every other breath we take, is made possible by microorganisms in the ocean,” he said.

Through his research, Fuhrman has also identified major new taxonomic groups and how to better estimate the total diversity found in these communities and their role in the ecosystem. Recently, his lab has determined patterns in diversity that help show how the micro-organisms interact as a complex network. In the public health realm, his team has helped to link cases of illness to exposure to microbial and viral pathogens in the coastal zone.

Fuhrman earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and his Ph.D. in oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California, San Diego.

From 1981, he taught and conducted research at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., until he arrived at USC Dornsife in 1988. He served as chair of biological sciences from 1994 to 1996 and in 2006 won an Albert S. Raubenheimer Outstanding Faculty Award, USC Dornsife’s highest faculty honor.

He has served on the editorial boards of The ISME Journal, Environmental Microbiology, Aquatic Microbial Ecology and Marine Ecology.

In 2012, he received part of a $35 million award to be given over five years from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. That study will further understanding of ocean ecosystems and provide new insights into pressing issues such as climate change.

The academy membership encompasses more than 4,000 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members and reflects a full range of disciplines: mathematics, the physical and biological sciences, medicine, the social sciences and humanities, business, government, public affairs and the arts.

Other 2013 fellows include actors Robert De Niro and Sally Field; John Glenn Jr., the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth; Emily Rauh Pulitzer, founder and chair of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts; and musician Bruce Springsteen.

The 2013 class of fellows will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 12 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.