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'Generalist bacteria' discovered in coastal waters may be more flexible than known before
Date:1/27/2008

Athens, Ga. Marine bacteria come almost a billion to a cup. Until recently, however, little has been known about how these minute creatures live or what they need to flourish.

Now, new research led by a marine microbial ecologist at the University of Georgia is showing for the first time that the roles played by bacteria in coastal waters arent nearly as specific as some scientists suspected. In fact, these bacteria are generalists in how they get their nourishment and may have the option of doing many different things, depending on what works best at the time.

While the new research confirms predictions by ecological theorists, it is among the first clear demonstrations at the experimental level that coastal ocean bacteria can act as tidewater utility infielders, changing their functions depending on local food supply.

If you asked me earlier how different species of coastal bacteria use their available food supplies, I would have said each species is optimized for very specialized uses, said Mary Ann Moran. But our new research says most are carrying out multiple processes when it comes to carbon cycling.

The research was just published in the journal Nature. Co-authors on the paper are postdoctoral associate Xiaozhen Mou, bioinformaticist Shulei Sun and professor emeritus Robert Hodson, all of the University of Georgia, and Robert Edwards of San Diego State University.

Learning just how everything works together in the oceans has been a daunting task, but scientists agree that it is crucial. The paper published in Nature specifically examined the metabolic capabilities of bacteria involved in breaking down organic carbon compounds.

Scientists dont yet understand much about how the various genes in ocean bacteria are packaged together. But as the ocean changes, they would like to model and predict how the processes mediated by the genes could be affected.

Only in the past 15 years have scientists
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Contact: Kim Osborne
kosborne@uga.edu
706-542-8083
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert

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