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 Rapp 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 r
|Contact: Tara Hicks Johnson|
University of Hawaii at Manoa