DeLong and his colleagues saw a unique opportunity for a "proof-of-principle" study by combining new microbial genomic profiles with decades of data collected at Station ALOHA, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) research site. Since 1988, HOT investigators have catalogued information about the biologic, chemical and physical parameters of the surrounding ocean, making it one of the most comprehensively characterized sites in the seas.
"Station ALOHA is a well-studied region of the open ocean with regard to plankton ecology, biogeochemistry and physical oceanography, making it an ideal collection site for this work," said Philip Taylor, director of NSF's biological oceanography program, which co-supported the work.
"The HOT program provided the opportunity to place new information about the depth distribution of genes in an environmental context. This approach transformed what we know about the ecology and evolution of microbial life in the ocean," he said.
Earth's microbes help clean water and air and regenerate nutrients used by all life. Planktonic microbes, microscopic organisms that float freely in the oceans, help maintain environmental balance and drive the planet's biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur.
"Plants and animals are twigs on the tree of life when compared to the diversity of microbes that surround us," said Matthew Kane, director of NSF's microbial observatories and microbial genome sequencing programs, which also supported the work. "By approaching ecology through genomics, we are starting to get a truly paradigm-shifting view of all life on the planet."
A better understanding of these microbial communities and how their genes allow them to interact with the environment underpins the larger study of biology. "The open ocean is Earth's largest and, perhaps, most complex ecological com
Source:National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research