Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Note from a Heterotrophic Bacterium

by Monica Torres Beltran, University of British Columbia


I’m a heterotrophic bacterium from the deep ocean. Actually, to be more specific, from the deep South Atlantic Ocean. I’m also a proud member of the microbial community in charge of the degradation of dissolved organic matter.

A heterotrophic bacterium's first introduction to Monica Torres
Beltran (left) and Maya Bhatia. (Colleen Durkin, WHOI)
 I recently heard that there is a group of scientists on board the R/V Knorr passing through the Atlantic Ocean. Among these scientists there are two members of Steven Hallam's lab at the University of British Columbia, Maya and Monica.

I know about this research group because our Canadian cousins in the Northeast Subarctic Pacific Ocean have told us about them, so we would like to tell you about what they are doing aboard the R/V Knorr. On the Knorr, as part of the Deep DOM cruise, Maya and Monica are collecting seawater samples to determine the taxonomic composition of our bacteria friends that inhabit different deep-water masses in the South Atlantic.

I wonder who they are going to find. I was told once that my relatives inhabit the low-oxygen region in the Atlantic. I hope they can find them.

Monica prepares to collect me onto a filter. (Colleen Durkin, WHOI)
Maya and Monica are also interested in understanding how we are able to degrade dissolved organic matter. They do this by looking at our gene content and expression. To do this, they filter and filter seawater, sometimes up to 50 liters through a 0.2 micrometer filter! That has to take a while! However, I can assure you that they have not lost their enthusiasm to keep sampling and filtering with the goal of understanding how our community works.

It’s too bad they can’t just ask us, as that seems like it’d be a lot easier!

Their ultimate goal on the DeepDOM cruise is to determine the microbial community and metabolic pathways associated with the degradation of organic matter across different scales of time and space and across oxygen gradients in the ocean. They will do this by comparing their results with those from Liz Kujawinski's group who are studying the composition of the organic matter and also by comparing their results from the South Atlantic to those from the Northeast Subartic Pacific Ocean.

I admit that my fellow bacteria and I are very interested to hear about their results. It is not often that we have the chance to learn what is going on with our distant relatives across the world!

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