The diatom DNA sequencing project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and conducted at the DOE Joint Genome Institute, provides insight into how the diatom species Thalassiosira pseudonana prospers in the marine environment while it contributes to absorbing the major greenhouse gas CO2,in amounts comparable to all the world's tropical rain forests combined.
"This critical information enables us to better understand the vital role that diatoms and other phytoplankton play in mediating global warming," says Dan Rokhsar, who heads computational genomics at the JGI and is one of the co-authors of a research article in the Oct. 1 issue of Science. "Now that we have a glimpse at the inner workings of diatoms, we're better positioned to understand how changes in their population numbers will translate into environmental changes and the global carbon management picture."
"These organisms are incredibly important in the global carbon cycle," says Virginia Armbrust, a University of Washington associate professor of oceanography and lead author of the Science paper. Together, the single-celled organisms generate as much as 40 percent of the 50 billion to 55 billion tons of organic carbon produced each year in the sea and in the process use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. And they are an important food source for many other marine organisms.
Scientists would like to better understand how these organisms react to changes in sea temperatures, the amount of light penetrating the oceans, and nutrients.
"Oceanographers thought we understood how diatoms use nitrogen, but we discovered they have a urea cycle, something no one ever suspected," Armbrust says
Contact: David Gilbert
DOE/Joint Genome Institute