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Professor Parkes is a microbial ecologist who has an international research record in geomicrobiology and biogeochemistry of sediments, including deep sediments, and other environments, including glaciers, subsurface methane hydrates and lignites. He has authored or co-authored over 120 international journal publications. He is a Distinguished Research Professor at Cardiff University, where he has establish a Geomicrobiology Research Group, with new specialist laboratories and facilities. Professor Parkes has consistently been awarded grants from both NERC (current grants 4) and EU (current grants 1) and was co-ordinator of the EU DeepBUG project, plus grants from other organisations. He has been a NERC Peer Review College Member and has served on a number of NERC and other Grant Committees, as well as international committees. He is a member of International Space Science Institute (ISSI, an Institute of Advanced Studies) Working Group on “The Methane Balance - Formation and Destruction Processes on Planets, their Satellites and in the Interstellar Medium”. His group comprises a lecturer, 4 PDRAs, 1 technician and 3 PhD students. Currently, these PhD students are investigating different aspects of methanogenesis and the biogeochemistry of Severn Estuary sediments, two NERC grants also contain aspects of methanogenesis plus mechanisms of hydrogen formation.
Parkes has shown the dominance of anaerobic prokaryotic processes in estuarine sediments with respect to organic matter mineralization and productivity. He was one of the first to identify the direct substrates for anaerobic sulphate reduction in sediments and showed how these varied with organic matter flux. He has also quantified the significance of anaerobic methanogenesis and methane fuxes, the substrates used for methanogenesis and the methanogens involved.
Parkes has used phospholipid fatty acids as biomarkers to identify sedimentary prokaryotes in situ and was a member of the first group to couple this with stable isotope probing (SIP) to directly link activity with identity. His laboratory use of SIP has subsequently been extended to DNA-SIP, which is combined with PCR-DGGE plus band sequencing, T-RFLP and 16S rRNA gene clone libraries for profiling prokaryotic community composition. An important element of his research has been combining measurement of rates of prokaryotic activity using radiotracers with detailed porewater geochemistry and community analysis to link biogeochemical processes and fluxes with prokaryotic diversity.
Professor Parkes was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2011 in recognition of his pioneering research in demonstrating the presence of a globally significant deep biosphere in marine sediments (up to 100 million years old and to kilometres depths).