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Genomic Tools Shed Light on Oceanic Photodynamic Bacteria

NEW YORK, Feb.13 - Genome sequencing efforts have provided new insights into the physiology and function of some poorly understood oceanic bacteria, and suggest that the food web of the ocean may operate very differently than scientists had previously thought.

 

Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute together with The Institute for Genomic Research used PCR technology to explore microbes that have been impossible to maintain in the lab, showing that genomic research tools can open new doors in environmental and oceanographic science.

 

The research is published in this week's edition of Nature.

 

Monterey researcher Oded Béjà isolated and analyzed photosynthetic genes from samples drawn from the northern Pacific Ocean. Béjà and colleagues in the lab of Monterey microbiologist Edward DeLong used PCR technology to identify a range of genes from bacteria that have never before been cultured in the lab.

 

The report documents the widespread range of some photosynthetic bacteria that use an uncommon process to convert sunlight into energy. These alpha-protobacteria generate energy through a reaction that consumes rather than generates oxygen.

 

This and related work suggest that the enormous energy and carbon dynamics of the ocean may not be very well understood, and that many different organisms may play an important role at the crucial ecological juncture where sunlight is changed into chemical energy.

 

It also indicates that the complex carbon cycle that plays an essential role in regulating atmosphere carbon dioxide may also be much more intricate than previously thought.

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