Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microbes’ Genomes Promise Insight into Oceans

14.08.2003

The world’s smallest photosynthetic organisms, microbes that can turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into living biomass, will be in the limelight next week. Three international teams of scientists, two funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), will announce the genetic blueprints for four closely related forms of these organisms, which dominate the phytoplankton, the tiny floating plants of the oceans.

The work will be reported in the August 13 online issues of Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Much like the sequencing of the human genome, the sequencing of the genomes of three strains of Prochlorococcus and one of closely related Synechococcus should crack many mysteries about these organisms-and about phytoplankton in general.

A better understanding of phytoplankton, which play a critical role in the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide, will aid studies on global climate change. The metabolic machinery of these single-celled organisms could serve as a model for sustainable energy production, as they can turn sunlight into chemical energy, according to Gabrielle Rocap of the University of Washington, lead author of the Nature paper that reports the genomes of two strains of Prochlorococcus. "The four genomes that have been sequenced represent numerous strains that populate ocean waters and form the base of the food web," says Rocap. "A hundred of these organisms can fit end-to- end across the width of a human hair, but they grow in such abundance that, small as they are, at times they amount to more than 50 percent of the photosynthetic biomass of the oceans."

It behooves us "to understand exactly how, with roughly 2,000 genes, this tiny cell converts solar energy into living biomass-basic elements into life," said Sallie (Penny) Chisholm, a biological oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "These cells are not just esoteric little creatures; they dominate the oceans. There are some 100 million Prochlorococcus cells per liter of seawater, and they are responsible for a significant fraction of global photosynthesis."

This research addresses in a concrete way major questions in biological oceanography at levels finer than the species level, says Phillip Taylor, director of NSF’s biological oceanography program, which co- funded the research. "The work shows there is a rich and fascinating diversity of physiological capacity and adaptation in the sea, and that this diversity is not always revealed just by looking in the microscope."

Adds Raymond Orbach, director of the office of science at the Department of Energy (DOE), which funded the research, "While many questions remain, it’s clear that Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus play a significant role in photosynthetic ocean carbon sequestration. Having the completed genome in hand gives us a first-albeit crude-’parts list’ to use in exploring the mechanisms for these and other critically important processes that could be directly relevant to this critical DOE mission."

In the same issue of Nature, a team led by Brian Palenik of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California at San Diego, will report the sequence of Synechococcus, a co- inhabitant of ocean waters with Prochlorococcus, that has a unique form of motility.

The Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus teams collaborated closely. "We learned a tremendous amount working together," said Palenik. "By coming at it from different perspectives, we were able to see common themes in how these organisms adapted to the open ocean."

A separate report, by a team led by Frederick Partensky, at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Station Biologique de Roscoff, describes the genome of a third strain of Prochlorococcus and will be published online August 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The work of all three teams "will allow us to better understand what differentiates the ecology of these closely related organisms through comparative genomics," said Chisholm.

Rocap and her colleagues present a kind of case study for how this might work. They report the genetic sequences for two different Prochlorococcus strains, then go on to compare them. The resulting analysis "reveals many of the genetic foundations for the observed differences in [the two strains’] physiologies and vertical niche partitioning," the authors report. The latter refers to each strain’s slightly different ecological niche-they thrive at different depths in the ocean’s surface waters.

Chisholm emphasizes that, "we still don’t know the functions of nearly half of these organisms’ genes. We’re excited about unveiling those functions-particularly for those genes that are unique to the different strains-because they’ll alert us to key factors important in regulating marine productivity [photosynthesis] and plankton diversity."

The idea, she says, "is to let the organisms tell us what dimensions of their environment are important in determining their distribution and abundance. This will become easier and easier as the genomes of additional strains are sequenced, and the functions of the genes are understood."

Concludes Rocap, "Right now, we don’t even know the range of diversity that exists. We’ve had just a glimpse of the different genome types that are out there."

This research was also sponsored by the Seaver Foundation, the Israel-US Binational Science Foundation, and FP5-Margenes.

Cheryl Dybas | NSF
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>