Researching a vital element for Life: microbial metabolism on the ocean

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Marine and Terrestrial Biology

with Solange Duhamel (LDEO) and Julia Diaz (Scripps Institute of Oceanography)

(supported by NSF Grants 1737083, 2001212 (S.D.), 1736967, 1948042 (J.M.D.)

Introductory slideshow (pptx) (pdf)

March 20, 2021


Phosphorus is essential for life. However, microbe’s preferred source of phosphorus, phosphate, can be so scarce in parts of the ocean that it affects their growth. Phosphate availability can therefore limit photosynthesis in the well-lit ocean layer and constrain the amount of carbon-rich material that sinks to the bottom of the ocean, which in turn impacts the regulation of our climate. Here we will present some of the results we obtained through a project funded by the National Science Foundation. In this project we ask if marine microbes can utilize alternative sources of phosphorus to make a living. Additionally, we will introduce the concepts of a new educational game that will teach and excite students about marine sciences. With this game we aim to explain the importance of phytoplankton for life on Earth and how the availability of phosphorus can impact these tiny plants and the vital ecosystem services they provide. We will include a brainstorming session with our audience to discuss ways to improve our game to make it an effective educational tool.

Previous E2C presentations by Solange Duhamel

“Studying Phytoplankton Adaptations to Different Marine Environments” with Solange Duhamel & Andy Juhl (May 2016)

Duhamel Lab for Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry

The  Duhamel Lab for marine microbiology and biogeochemistry, specializes in the abundance, diversity and activity of aquatic microbes in the ocean, as well as in lakes, rivers, and wetland ecosystems. Specifically, we study the role of microorganisms as agents of biogeochemical transformations, and how microbes adapt to different environments. In particular, we are interested in the effects of climate and nutrient availability on the distribution, growth and productivity of microplankton but also in the potential of life to adapt to extreme environments and the implications for life elsewhere

The Diaz Lab

Marine biogeochemistry research group

Research in the Diaz lab explores the biogeochemistry of ocean health and marine ecosystem functioning.  Broadly, our goal is to understand how interactions between the geochemistry and microbiology of the ocean shape the natural world, including global climate and natural resources.  We conduct our research using a combination of lab-based experiments and field work in diverse ocean settings.  Many of our projects focus on phytoplankton, which are microscopic plantlike organisms that drift with the ocean’s currents.  Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food web, regulate global climate by taking up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and provide us with half the oxygen we breathe.  Among other projects, we study how marine phytoplankton cope with stress by obtaining the chemical nutrients they need from seawater (such as phosphorus) and converting chemical elements into forms that can be harmful or beneficial to life (such as reactive oxygen species). Pairing observational proteomics datasets with experimental biochemical assays to unveil novel enzymes that drive these biogeochemical processes is a key aspect of our research.

Additional Resources:

How microbes in Iceland can teach us about possible life on Mars