WALNUT CREEK, Calif.Understanding the flow and processing of carbon in the world's oceans, which cover 70 percent of Earth's surface, is central to understanding global climate cycles, with many questions remaining unanswered. Between 200 and 1,000 meters below the ocean surface exists a "twilight zone" where insufficient sunlight penetrates for microorganisms to perform photosynthesis. Despite this, it is known that microbes resident at these depths capture carbon dioxide that they then use to form cellular structures and carry out necessary metabolic reactions so that they can survive and reproduce. Details are now emerging about a microbial metabolic pathway that helps solve the mystery of how certain bacteria do this in the dark ocean. These research results, which are enabling a better understanding of what happens to the carbon that is fixed in the oceans every year, were published by a team of researchers, including those from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI), in the September 2, 2011 edition of Science.
Carbon fixation in the dark ocean has so far been attributed primarily to the Archaea, single-celled organisms that often live in extreme environmental conditions. In this region of the ocean, the bacteria living there were thought to rely on organic compounds for both energy and carbon. According to DOE JGI collaborator Ramunas Stepanauskas, Director of the Bigelow Laboratory Single Cell Genomics Center and senior author of the Science paper, "Previous oceanographic models suggested that Archaea do not adequately account for the amount of carbon that is being fixed in the dark ocean. Our study discovered specific types of Bacteria rather than Archaea, and their likely energy sources that may be responsible for this major, unaccounted component of the dark ocean carbon cycle."
To overcome the challenge that had hindered studies of deep ocean microbes, which have not yet been cultivated in t
|Contact: David Gilbert|
DOE/Joint Genome Institute