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New research finds ocean's most abundant organisms have clear daily cycles

Coordinated timing may have implications for energy transformation, ocean food web

Courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa - Scanning electron micrograph of marine planktonic microbes
By Talia S Ogliore University of Hawaii Manoa July 10, 2014
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Imagine the open ocean as a microbial megacity, teeming with life too small to be seen. In every drop of water, hundreds of types of bacteria can be found. Now scientists have discovered that communities of these ocean microbes have their own daily cycles—not unlike the residents of a bustling city who tend to wake up, commute, work, and eat at the same times.

What’s more, it’s not all about the sun. Light-loving photoautotrophs—bacteria that need solar energy to help them photosynthesize food from inorganic substances—have been known to sun themselves on a regular schedule. But in a new study published in the July 11 issue of the journal Science, researchers working at Station ALOHA, a deep ocean study site 100 km north of O‘ahu, observed different species of free-living, heterotrophic bacteria turning on diel cycling genes at slightly different times—suggesting a wave of transcriptional activity that passes through the microbial community each day. 

“I like to say they are singing in harmony,” said Edward F. DeLong, professor of Oceanography at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and the head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team that made this discovery. Read the full article here.