New Study Shows Group Of Marine Bacteria Dominate Offshore Waters Of Southeast, May Play Key Role In Ecosystem Processes

ATHENS, Ga. -- Scientists have found increasing evidence that the earth's oceans may be in serious trouble. From coral reef destruction to massive fish kills, the problems facing the world's seas are serious and growing. There's one area of marine ecology that may be important in solving many of these problems and yet remains virtually unknown: bacteria. What bacteria are in the oceans and how do they live?

A new study by marine scientists at the University of Georgia is uncovering intriguing and unexpected clues about marine bacteria. Most interesting may be the dominance of bacteria from the so-called "marine alpha group" in the near-shore waters and estuaries of the Georgia coast. As much as 30 percent of the bacteria in the area belongs to a single group named marine alpha bacteria, but the reasons for it - and its significance - are still unclear.

"Right now, an important goal in marine microbiology is understanding the connection between the structure of bacterial communities and their ecological function," said Dr. Mary Ann Moran. "We are studying a group of bacteria that are closely related but which may be very diverse functionally."

The research was published late last year in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and it has been funded by grants from the Georgia College Sea Grant Program and the National Science Foundation. Moran has collaborated with postdoctoral associate Dr. Jos Gonzlez on the research.

Scientists agree that coastal bacteria play a substantial role in biogeochemical processes and that these bacteria could one day be important in business and industry as well as in maintaining the health of near-shore ecosystems. A number of problems, however, have kept the composition of bacterial communities largely unknown. Researchers have been reluctant to dive into the vast array of marine bacteria because they are devilishly hard to cu

Contact: Phil Williams
University of Georgia

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