Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A new view of oceanic phytoplankton

11.03.2009
University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers involved in novel strategy

Phytoplankton comprise the forests of the sea, and are responsible for providing nearly half of the oxygen that sustains life on Earth including our own. However, unlike their counterparts on land, the marine plants are nearly exclusively microscopic in size, and mostly out of human sight.

Consequently, we are still in a very early stage of understanding even the most basic aspects of phytoplankton biology and ecology.

In a new paper published in Nature, an international team of scientists, including two University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) microbial oceanographers, describe a novel strategy for phytoplankton growth in the vast nutrient-poor habitats of tropical and subtropical seas. The research team was led by Benjamin Van Mooy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, MA, with key contributions by UHM scientists Michael Rappé and David Karl of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and UH's new Center for Microbial Oceanography (C-MORE).

Until now, it was thought that all cells are surrounded by membranes containing molecules called phospholipids – oily compounds that contain phosphorus, as well as other basic elements including carbon and nitrogen. These phospholipids are fundamental to the structure and function of the cell and for this reason had been thought to be an indispensable component of life. Phospholipids are one of several classes of molecules that contain the element phosphorus, which has been shown to be in very short supply in many marine ecosystems. The deep sea contains ample phosphorus but delivery to the surface waters where photosynthesis occurs is limited by temperature-induced stratification and the inability to mix the ocean to depths where phosphorus is available. Indeed, research conducted at Station ALOHA near Hawaii during the past two decades has shown that phosphorus is rapidly becoming less abundant in the stratified regions of the North Pacific Ocean, possibly a result of changes in the marine habitat due to greenhouse gas warming.

Van Mooy and colleagues discovered that phytoplankton in the open ocean may be adapting to the low levels of phosphorus by making a fundamental change to their cell structure. Rather than synthesizing the phosphorus-requiring phospholipids for use in their membranes, the plants appear to be using non-phosphorus containing "substitute lipids" that use the nearly unlimited element sulfur also found in seawater instead of phosphorus. These substitute sulfolipids apparently allow the plants to continue to grow and survive under conditions of phosphorus stress, a unique strategy for life in the sea.

To test the generality of this biochemical strategy, the authors compared the response of the phytoplankton communities in different ocean basins that experience varying levels of phosphorus stress. In regions where phosphorus stress is extreme, such as the area dubbed the Sargasso Sea in the central North Atlantic Ocean, phospholipids were nearly nonexistent. By comparison, in the South Pacific Ocean, where sufficient phosphorus exists, there were large amounts of phospholipids. The region around Hawaii was intermediate, which is consistent with the long-term data sets from the Hawaii Ocean Time-series program showing that phosphorus is still measurable but is disappearing from the surface waters at an alarming rate. One prediction from this initial study is that the phytoplankton in Hawaiian waters are likely to become more like those in the Sargasso Sea over time as phosphorus supplies dwindle further. To date, the ability to synthesize substitute lipids appears to be restricted to the phytoplankton; heterotrophic bacteria and other organisms must have a different strategy for survival, or none at all. This has implications for the future structure, biodiversity and function of Hawaiian marine ecosystems, including fish production and long-term carbon dioxide sequestration.

This research will continue as part of C-MORE's stated mission to understand life in the marine environment from "genomes to biomes" (http://cmore.soest.hawaii.edu).

Tara Hicks Johnson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.hawaii.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>