Ocean census uncovers 'new world' of marine microbe life

Apr 18, 2010 by Jean-Louis Santini
A diver explores a coral reef. An ocean census has revealed a "new world" of richly diverse marine microbe life that could help scientists understand more about key environmental processes on Earth, a study said Sunday.

An ocean census has revealed a "new world" of richly diverse marine microbe life that could help scientists understand more about key environmental processes on Earth, a study said Sunday.

Scientists participating in the International Census of Marine Microbes (ICoMM) said they had uncovered an astonishing array of hard-to-see marine lifeforms, including microbes, and larvae.

Traditional research methods have already isolated some 20,000 marine microbes, but new data suggests the true numbers are much higher.

"The total number of marine microbes, including both bacteria and archaea (single-cell microorganisms), based on molecular characterization, is likely closer to a billion," said ICoMM's scientific advisory council chair John Baross, of the University of Washington.

The marine microbes in fact constitute somewhere between 50 to 90 percent of all ocean biomass, and by volume weigh the equivalent of 240 billion African elephants, according to the researchers.

"In no other realm of has the magnitude of Census discovery been as extensive as in the world of microbes," said Mitch Sogin, of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachussetts.

Determining the number, variety and role of different forms of provides key insight into "the size, dynamics and stability of the Earth's food chain, and other planetary fundamentals," researchers said.

This marine life is responsible for over 95 percent of respiration in the oceans, thereby helping to maintain the conditions humans need to survive on Earth, they added.

They function as key recyclers, turning absorbed by the ocean into carbon that goes back into the ground. They perform similar functions for nitrogen, sulfur, iron, manganese and other elements.

Among other discoveries made by the research was the location of massive "mats" of microbes that carpet areas of .

One located off the west coast of South America covers a surface comparable in size to Greece and is among Earth's largest masses of life, researchers said.

The study also found that some and bacteria formed symbiotic relationships with marine animals, living on their skin or in their guts.

The revelation could uncover hundreds of millions of new microbial species and provides "a huge frontier for the next decade," Baross said.

The research was conducted at more than 1,200 sites worldwide, allowing scientists to amass 18 million DNA sequences of microbial life.

The latest finding is part of the decade-long research involved in the ocean census, which will conclude October 4 with closing ceremonies in London.

Involving more than 2,000 scientists from more than 80 nations, the census is one of the largest global scientific collaborations ever undertaken, according to organizers.

Explore further: Mycologist promotes agarikon as a possibility to counter growing antibiotic resistance

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Marine census grows near completion

Feb 19, 2010

(AP) -- From pole to pole, surface to frigid depths, researchers have discovered thousands of new ocean creatures in a decade-long effort now nearing completion, and there may still be several times more strange creatures ...

Food source threatened by carbon dioxide

Dec 10, 2007

Carbon dioxide increasing in the atmosphere may affect the microbial life in the sea, which could have an impact on a major food source, warned Dr Ian Joint at a Science Media Centre press briefing today.

Microbial answer to plastic pollution?

Mar 28, 2010

Fragments of plastic in the ocean are not just unsightly but potentially lethal to marine life. Coastal microbes may offer a smart solution to clean up plastic contamination, according to Jesse Harrison presenting ...

Bigelow laboratory scientists doach to study marine microbes

May 21, 2007

In a paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Ramunas Stepanauskas and Dr. Michael Sieracki have proven a new method of identifying genetic codes of ocean microbes from a sing ...

Recommended for you

YEATS protein potential therapeutic target for cancer

Oct 23, 2014

Federal Express and UPS are no match for the human body when it comes to distribution. There exists in cancer biology an impressive packaging and delivery system that influences whether your body will develop cancer or not.

Precise and programmable biological circuits

Oct 23, 2014

A team led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson has developed several new components for biological circuits. These components are key building blocks for constructing precisely functioning and programmable bio-computers.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

whygreen
Apr 18, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Apr 18, 2010
"These lifeforms are vital to all life on earth, and if the Great Barrier Reef can die in decades then man will be extinct in 50 year"

That is nonsense and hyperbole.

Reefs have died and been born and died, and born again, in the lifetime of man.