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Tiny marine microbes exert influence on global climate
Date:7/15/2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. New research indicates that the interactions of microscopic organisms around a particular organic material may alter the chemical properties of the ocean and ultimately influence global climate by affecting cloud formation in the atmosphere.

Justin Seymour, a research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, is the lead author of a paper published in the July 16 issue of Science that describes how a relative of the smelly chemical that sea birds and seals use to locate prey, dimethylsulfide (DMS), may serve a similar purpose at the microbial scale, helping marine microorganisms find food and cycle chemicals that are important to climate.

"We found that ecological interactions and behavioral responses taking place within volumes of a fraction of a drop of seawater can ultimately influence important ocean chemical cycling processes," said Seymour.

Using microfluidic technology, the team of researchers led by Professor Roman Stocker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, recorded microbes swimming toward the chemical dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) as it was released into a tiny channel occupied by the microbes.

The fact that the microbes actively moved toward the DMSP indicates that the tiny organisms play a role in ocean sulphur and carbon cycles, which exert a powerful influence on Earth's climate. How fast the microorganisms consume DMSP rather than converting it into DMS is important because DMS is involved in the formation of clouds in the atmosphere. This in turn affects the heat balance of the atmosphere.

Seymour, Stocker, Professor Rafel Sim of the Institute for Marine Sciences in Barcelona, and MIT graduate student Tanvir Ahmed carried out the research in the MIT laboratory of Stocker, who pioneered the use of microfluidics and video microscopy in the study of ocean microbes. The new study is the first to mak
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Contact: Jennifer Hirsch
jfhirsch@mit.edu
617-253-1682
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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