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A drop of ocean water tells a story

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Scientists are still learning what's in a drop of ocean water, according to this week's Nature Magazine. And the answers have implications for the whole planet, says co-author Craig Carlson, an oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Carlson is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology.

About ten thousand bacterioplankton of the type SAR 11 are found in every drop of seawater. And yet, as explained in the article, which gives the first accurate quantitative assessment of SAR 11, scientists are only beginning to understand what these organisms do.

The article is the result of a collaborative effort between Craig Carlson, and his lab, and Stephen Giovannoni of Oregon State University (OSU) and his lab, including first author Robert Morris. They are attempting to better understand the role of microbes in natural systems. The work was conducted under the Oceanic Microbial Observatory project, a joint effort between UCSB, OSU and the Bermuda Biological Station for Research that was initiated in 1999 by the National Science Foundation.

"Microbes like bacterioplankton are important biogeochemical agents," explained Carlson. "Over geologic time, they have played an important role in altering the chemical nature of the earths's environment, allowing for the evolution of plants and animals. Without them, we would have no oxygen to breathe, organic matter would not be degraded, and the cycling of life's essential nutrients would cease."

In a world that appears to be dominated by large organisms (i.e.things we can see), some might ask why we care about microbes don't they just make us sick? The fact is that only a small percentage of microbes are pathogenic; most are beneficial to life on earth, according to Carlson. The living biomass and processes that drive the earth's biosphere are really in the hands of the microbes.

For decades marine scientists have b
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
19-Dec-2002


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