CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Microbes living in the oceans play a critical role in regulating Earths environment, but very little is known about their activities and how they work together to help control natural cycles of water, carbon and energy.
A team of MIT researchers led by Professors Edward DeLong and Penny Chisholm is trying to change that.
Borrowing gene sequencing tools developed for sequencing the human genome, the researchers have devised a new method to analyze gene expression in complex microbial populations. The work could help scientists better understand how oceans respond to climate change.
This project can help us get a better handle on the specific details of how microbes affect the flux of energy and matter on Earth, and how microbes respond to environmental change, said DeLong, a professor of biological engineering and civil and environmental engineering.
The new approach also has other potential applications, for example, one can now realistically consider using indigenous microbes as in situ biosensors, as well as monitor the activities of human-associated microbial communities much more comprehensively, DeLong said.
Their technique, which has already yielded a few surprising discoveries, is reported in the March 3 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The work was facilitated by the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center established in 2006 to explore microbial ocean life, most of which is not well understood.
The traditional way to study bacteria is to grow them in Petri dishes in a laboratory, but that yields limited information, and not all strains are suited to life in the lab. The cast of characters we can grow in the lab is a really small percentage of whats out there, said DeLong, who is research coordinator for C-MORE.
The MIT team gathers microbe sam
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology