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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Friday, June 16, 2006

Rare NIH MERIT award goes to IU Bloomington biologist

June 16, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomingon biologist Carl Bauer's success as a researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health has been rewarded with the government agency's MERIT award.

The rare award amounts to $5 million over 10 years, provided Bauer satisfies the conditions of renewal in 2011. Only a few MERIT awards are given out to NIH-funded researchers each year.

Biologist Carl Bauer studies the regulation of gene expression by light and oxygen, among other things.

The MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award program supports scientists who have successful track records, freeing them to focus on important questions related to human health and biology.

"I'm not burdened with having to write grants every couple of years," Bauer said. "This award allows you to explore research questions without having to deal with the pressure of publishing papers at a crazy rate."

Bauer's work does not fit neatly into the categories of cell biology, biochemistry, microbiology, genetics or molecular biology. Rather, his interests span each of these fields. The work for which Bauer is being rewarded is focused on the growth of bacteria in the presence and absence of oxygen.

"We're doing fundamental research on how light and oxygen are sensed by bacteria," Bauer said. "Depending on the environment bacteria are in, they can have lots of oxygen or no oxygen. This influences their ability to survive."

Understanding how bacteria thrive under low- or zero-oxygen conditions can lead to new techniques that limit the infection of humans by bacteria that are able to live with and without oxygen. The nosocomial infector Staphylococcus aureus -- the perpetrator of staph infections -- is one such bug.

"We are also beginning to examine the biochemistry of heme production. Heme is an iron-containing compound that is both an electron and oxygen carrier. In red blood cells, the heme component of hemoglobin captures oxygen and releases it in the vicinity of oxygen-deprived tissues," Bauer said.

"The implications of our work and the work in other labs are long-range but really important," he added. "We need a better fundamental understanding of how things are working at the molecular level to take it to practical applications for human health."

Bauer began the project, "Prokaryotic gene regulation by light and oxygen," in 1989 with funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. With the new MERIT award, he is almost assured of funding for the project until 2016.

"Dr. Bauer's highly successful efforts demonstrate the importance of bringing multiple, innovative, experimental approaches to bear on difficult problems fundamental to biomedical science," said James Anderson of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "The MERIT award was designed to allow proven creative and productive scientists the leeway to pursue their interests over a longer term than most grant recipients. NIGMS is delighted to make this award."

Bauer is the second Biology Department faculty member and the ninth from the IU Bloomington campus as a whole to receive the MERIT award. Past awardees include biologist Norman Pace, chemists John Richardson and Paul Grieco, and psychologists Richard Shiffrin, Jeffrey Alberts, Russell Fazio, Richard Rose and the late Esther Thelen.

To speak with Bauer, please contact David Bricker, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-9035 or