The work will be reported in the August 13 online issues of Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Much like the sequencing of the human genome, the sequencing of the genomes of three strains of Prochlorococcus and one of closely related Synechococcus should crack many mysteries about these organisms-and of phytoplankton in general.
A better understanding of phytoplankton, which play a critical role in the regulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide, will aid studies on global climate change. Further, the "metabolic machinery" of these single-celled organisms could serve as a model for sustainable energy production, as they can turn sunlight into chemical energy.
"The four that have been sequenced represent numerous strains that populate ocean waters and form the base of the food web," said Gabrielle Rocap, lead author of the Nature paper reporting the genetic blueprints for two Prochlorococcus strains. Rocap, a University of Washington assistant professor of oceanography, earned her doctorate from the MIT-Woods Hole Joint Program in 2000.
"A hundred of these organisms can fit end to end across the width of a human hair, but they grow in such abundance that, as small as they are, they at times amount to more than 50 percent of the photosynthetic biomass in the oceans," Rocap said.
ROUGHLY 2,000 GENES
"It behooves us to understand exactly how, with roughly 2,000 genes, this tiny cell converts solar energy into living biomass--basic elements into life," said Sallie W. (Penny) Chisholm, t
Contact: Elizabeth A. Thomson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology