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Claude ZoBell, Pioneering Marine Researcher, Dead at 84

March 15, 1989

LA JOLLA, Calif. (AP) _ Claude Ephraim ZoBell, a scientist who discovered living organisms at extreme ocean depths and was known as the father of marine microbiology, has died of cardiac arrest. He was 84.

ZoBell, who died Monday at Scripps Memorial Hospital, is credited with discovering 65 species of ocean bacteria. He also was noted for discoveries on how microorganisms affect the formation and transformation of petroleum.

″Claude ZoBell’s contributions to marine biology and the ecology of the oceans is acclaimed worldwide, but less known was his devoted service to the scientific community,″ said Edward Frieman, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

″His leadership in the field of marine microbiology drew many researchers from all over the world to his laboratory, and his generosity in directing younger scientists will last for many years into the future.″

ZoBell, a professor emeritus at Scripps since 1972, was the first researcher to recover and cultivate living organisms from ocean depths greater than 20,000 feet, said George Somero, chairman of the Marine Biology Research Division of Scripps Institution.

″Claude ZoBell’s discoveries that microbial life is possible in such extreme habitats as the deep sea opened entirely new vistas for later generations of microbiologists,″ Somero said.

King Frederick IX of Denmark awarded ZoBell the Galathea Medal in 1952 for successfully recovering living bacteria from more than 34,000 feet of water in the Mindanao Trench near the Philippines.

ZoBell joined the Scripps Institution in 1932 as an instructor. His early research included studies of how bacteria helps create oil in marine sediments.

His discovery that bacteria can cause oil to separate from sediments won a patent for the process in 1947, which ZoBell assigned to the American Petroleum Institute for free public use. His research has shed much light on how microbial action affects oil spills, Frieman said.

An author who published nearly 300 scientific papers and one textbook, ZoBell founded the international Geomicrobiology Journal in 1976 and served as its editor until 1981.

ZoBell was born in Provo, Utah, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in bacteriology from Utah State University in Logan. He received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1931.

Survivors include his wife of 42 years and a fellow microbiologist, Jean, who worked with ZoBell on many of his projects; two sons, 11 grandchildren and 12 greatgrandchildren.

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