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

onished to find an abundance of the creatures just a few dozen meters below the surface; "The maximum number were observed at 30 to 40 meters deep," says the scientist. "Below 150 meters, their concentration decreased below our detection limits, but we found them in virtually every surface water sample. They appeared to be everywhere."

Kolber said that the photosynthetic bacteria the researchers found may even be a new species, different from similar bacteria previously discovered since they are so widespread and readily adaptable to changing environments.

The bacteria are able to switch from a metabolism based on organic carbon to one based on photosynthesis, depending on the concentration of organic matter in ocean water, says the researcher.

When there's not enough organic matter, they make a bacterial form of photosynthetic pigment and use photosynthesis to provide them with energy while "fixing" or converting carbon dioxide into organic matter, although with lower efficiency than phytoplankton.

When the environment changes, and more organic matter is available, these bacteria cease to make photosynthetic pigment and start to consume organic matter the way normal bacteria do.

The scientist estimates that the unusual bacteria are able to supply between 20 percent to 40 percent of their energy requirements from sunlight. "They are not very efficient photosynthesizers, and photosynthesis alone probably wouldn't keep them alive," says Kolber. "But combined with their ability to obtain nutrients the way other bacteria do, they are able to thrive.


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

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