Metagenomics of photosynthetic marine microbes
Sebastian Sudek and Alexandra Z. Worden, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Global primary production is partitioned equally among terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
We are trying to understand the ecology of the marine phytoplankton responsible for this uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. The ecology, fate and adaptability of such organisms play a role in the long term sustainability of oceanic food webs and the global climate. Our research premises are that 1. phytoplankton cannot be treated as a bulk commodity but rather the organisms composing the phytoplankton community as a whole have vastly different capabilities and adaptations which influence larger-scale ecosystem dynamics and 2. abundance of an organism and its importance to the ecosystem are not necessarily correlated. Hence, we need to work toward knowledge at the level of individual organisms and populations, even if those organisms have not yet been cultured. Marine metagenomics, i.e. cataloguing genetic information in a natural sample, independent of the specific organisms from which it is derived, is an important first step to assess metabolic capabilities. However, to target specific populations other approaches are needed. To this end we have developed a method using flow cytometry to separate natural populations of interest and then sequence genome fragments from those populations. This approach has provided insights to widespread uncultured lineages of phytoplankton that contribute significantly to primary production.
Background review articles:
Cuvelier et al. PNAS 2010. Targeted metagenomics and ecology of globally important uncultured eukaryotic phytoplankton
Worden & Allen. Current Opinion in Microbiology 2010. The voyage of the microbial eukaryote
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