A $1.3 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will allow Franklin researchers to uncover answers about an important metabolic link that takes place in the Earth's oceans:
Microorganisms in the largest microbial habitat on Earth, the ocean microbiome, function similarly to microorganisms in the human gut; they perform chemical transformations that keep the whole system healthy.
Phytoplankton, the microbial primary producers of the ocean, take up carbon dioxide and provide the building blocks for all marine life, while bacteria use these building blocks to direct the carbon to different functions in the ocean.
And while the billions of marine microorganisms present in every liter of seawater represent a structured ecological community that regulates how the Earth functions, from energy consumption to respiration, and including the operation of carbon and nitrogen cycles, the precise metabolic links between phytoplankton and bacteria have proven difficult to analyze.
Now, thanks to the Moore Foundation grant, UGA researchers are working to uncover the details of these metabolic transformations to assess the rates at which metabolites move between microbial primary producers and consumers in the surface ocean.
"The flux of key phytoplankton-derived metabolites into other marine organisms is the foundation of ocean biology," said Mary Ann Moran, Distinguished Research Professor of Marine Sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator on the grant. "We're looking at the step after marine phytoplankton use CO2 to create the building blocks: How fast are specific metabolites released from these primary producers cycled by bacteria?"
Incredible leaps in technology and leveraging expertise will allow Moran's team to identify essential links in these important though poorly understood metabolic mechanisms. Fascinating and extraordinarily painstaking work from some of our best. Congratulations on this new research support.
Image: Mary Ann Moran