Marine Microbiology Initiative grants aim to transform marine microbiology into an integrated field of marine microbial ecology through the application of novel genomic technologies and instrumentation, with the ultimate objective of understanding how microbial communities contribute to ocean health and productivity.
In 2008, the Initiative’s grantees built upon prior successes in metagenomics research through direct applications of DNA sequence information, helped to broaden the portfolio into the realm of biogeochemical cycling, and increased high impact science efforts to accelerate the field of marine microbial ecology as a whole. Selected grantee achievements in 2008 include:
- Using a combination of approaches—cell sorting equipment adapted for marine microbiology and next generation DNA sequencing technology—MMI Investigator Dr. Jonathan P. Zehr made the unexpected discovery of an uncultured but abundant marine microorganism that shattered a long-held view that nitrogen fixation by marine microbes is coupled to photosynthesis. The discovery, published in Science (November 2008), raises questions about the evolution of photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation on Earth, two fundamental processes that drive biogeochemical cycles and life on the planet.
- A long-standing “methane enigma” - why the surface ocean is loaded with methane, over and above levels found in the atmosphere, when methane was thought to be produced only in the absence of oxygen - was solved this year by MMI Investigators Dr. David M. Karl and Dr. Ed DeLong. A new pathway for methane production by marine microbes in the presence of oxygen was discovered using genomic approaches, and this discovery was published in Nature Geoscience (June 2008).
- A new phage genome sequencing protocol using small amounts of DNA was developed at the Broad Institute with funding that began in 2005. Broad Institute researchers developed a sequencing, assembly, and annotation pipeline that was used for proof-of-concept studies to produce 20 cyanophage genome sequences. The new validated pipeline will enable a large-scale marine virus sequencing project starting in 2009.
Congratulations to our Marine Microbiology Investigators and other Initiative grantees, whose groundbreaking and multidisciplinary successes in 2008 continue to provide the scientific community with a deeper understanding of how marine microbial ecosystems function and evolve. Taken together, these collective achievements represent a significant first step in creating a predictive understanding of marine microbial ecosystems, and illuminating the biogeochemical processes required for life—and health—on Earth.