Scripps team part of collaboration that reveals first ecological genomic 'blueprints'

A broad international collaboration of scientists has uncovered the first genetic blueprints of organisms critically important in the world's ecological makeup.

The genetic blueprints, or genomes, are publicized jointly in the August 13, 2003, online editions of the journals Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A group from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, led one of the discoveries.

The papers describe the genomes of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus, tiny organisms that account for up to two-thirds of the carbon dioxide "fixation" (the conversion of carbon dioxide into organic compounds during photosynthesis) in the oceans and are key players in marine food webs. By knowing their genetic makeup, the scientists say, researchers will better be able to understand how these organisms process carbon, leading to a better understanding of the global carbon cycle.

"Having these genomes is helping us understand ecosystems in a way no other genomes have before," said Brian Palenik, lead author of one of the Nature papers and a member of the new Center for Marine Genomics at Scripps Institution. "Many of the sequenced genomes to date have been pathogens, but these are the first genomes of organisms that are ecologically relevant on a global scale. So these are really going to help us understand global carbon fixation and global element cycling--these are keystone organisms in marine ecosystems."

The Center for Marine Genomics at Scripps is a new center that will examine the genomes of diverse marine organisms to understand their adaptations to the marine environment.

Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus, single-celled organisms about 1/100th the diameter of a human hair, numerically dominate the phytoplankton of the oceans. With the genomes in hand, researchers will have a better idea of how to solve mysteries surrounding these organisms, such as how they thriv

Contact: Mario Aguilera /Cindy Clark
University of California - San Diego

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