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Study reveals vast diversity of ocean microbes

New research methods increase knowledge of microbial ecosystems

Protists

Protists are abundant in the deep blue sea, scientists have found.


April 26, 2019

Advanced molecular techniques have revealed the diversity of a little-known group of ocean microbes, according to a publication in Scientific Reports. Scientists analyzed samples of the microbes, called protists, collected on a Tara Oceans expedition, documenting genomes that will help researchers identify protists throughout the oceans.

"Many ocean protists cannot be kept alive in the lab, so we need to find ways to look at them in their environment," said Mike Sieracki, lead author of the study. "Every drop of seawater contains microbial ecosystems we know very little about. It's increasingly important to understand these microscopic ocean ecosystems and how they react to change."

Protists form complex relationships with other members of the ocean's microbial food web. The research team analyzed protists in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea by using single cell genomics, a suite of molecular techniques that reveals the genetic blueprints of individual cells.

Sieracki is currently a program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences. He conducted the research while working as a senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, where he helped found the institute's Single Cell Genomics Center.

--  NSF Public Affairs, (703) 292-8070 media@nsf.gov