Rutgers-led researchers discover new photosynthetic bacteria that appear to be significant component of ocean's carbon cycle

oned that at present the impact of the photosynthetic bacteria on the carbon cycle is unknown: "We don't know how they affect the amount of carbon actually sequestered (captured in the form of organic matter) by the ocean, and whether the discovery of their widespread presence will increase that amount or not."

The carbon cycle begins when plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide in the air or dissolved in water to make carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Most of these are consumed by humans and animals or respired by microbes, and ultimately converted back to carbon dioxide and other elements which plants use to start the process all over again.

Scientists first discovered the photosynthetic bacteria more than 20 years ago, mostly in organically-rich environments such as seaweed masses, beach sands, and cyanobacterial mats, small, purplish-red mats of bacteria that are often found in nutrient-rich environments.

More recently Kolber found the photosynthetic bacteria in ocean surface waters, a discovery which was detailed last year in the science journal, Nature, published in London, England. "However," notes the scientist, "this is the first time that they've been found in such abundance in the upper ocean and that their distribution has been measured vertically at various depths."

During their expedition last year, Kolber and his team originally sought to verify the presence of the strange bacteria at hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor in the northeast Pacific. "It was postulated that the light generated by the superheated water in thermal vents and chemical processes taking place around them would provide a good environment for the photosynthetic bacteria," says the researcher. "But to our dismay, we found none."

However, sampling water at different levels from the surface on down to the bottom, they were ast

Contact: Kevin P. Hyland
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

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