Function and significance of the biological clocks in polar planktonic organisms are the focus of the virtual Helmholtz Institute entitled PolarTime starting July 1st, 2012. It is one of eleven new virtual institutes funded by Germany's Helmholtz Association. PolarTime, coordinated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, will be supported for up to five years with approximately three million euros from the impulse and network fund of the Helmholtz Association.
The anthropogenic influence on the climate system is particularly pronounced in Polar Regions. Examples of environmental changes in the Arctic and Antarctic include the receding of sea ice and ocean warming. How do marine organisms react to these changes in the environment given that their vital processes, such as reproduction cycles and seasonable food availability, have been synchronised with the environment over millions of years? To be able to answer these questions, researchers in the virtual Helmholtz Institute PolarTime are taking a very close look at Antarctic krill (scientific name: Euphausia superba). It serves as a model organism for a polar plankton species which has adapted to the extreme conditions.
Krill plays a key role in the foodwebs of the South Ocean. During the course of evolution krill has developed a large number of biological rhythms that are closely connected to large seasonal changes in its environment. Almost all organisms, from protozoan to humans have adapted to the periodic change from day to night by developing an inner biological clock. This clock permits the synchronisation of physiological and behavioural processes with the diurnal variability in environmental conditions. It can also determine the seasonal rhythms with surprising temporal precision. However, the inner clock must be reset from time to time. This happens thanks to so-called outer "timers" such as the length of daylight (photoperiod).
A team around spokesmen
|Contact: Dr. Folke Mehrtens|
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres