Scientists find microbe that is key biological indicator of oceanic dead zones

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Washington, October 23 (ANI): In a new study, a team of scientists has mapped the genome of a microbe that is a key biological indicator of oceanic dead zones.

The study was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia, along with colleagues at the US Dept. of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

"Microbes specialize in metabolic innovation and many can use alternatives to oxygen, including nitrates, sulfates and metals, breathing these compounds instead of oxygen. These adaptations likely enable them to thrive in dead zones where their combined metabolic activity influences nutrient and greenhouse gas cycling on a global scale," said Steve Hallam, an assistant professor of Microbiology and Immunology.

The study offers new insight into metabolic capabilities of an abundant dead zone microbe known as SUPO5.

Dead zones are areas of low dissolved-oxygen concentrations caused by climate change that play a major role in the ocean ecosystem and global climate balance because they are a source of greenhouse gases and sinks for nitrogen, robbing many ocean life forms of this critical nutrient.

Scientists have observed that the zones - found off the coasts of Oregon, Chile, Namibia and elsewhere - are expanding and will directly affect productivity of marine fisheries and seabed ecosystems due to habitat and nutrient loss.

Despite the magnitude of these effects, very little is known about the metabolism of the zones' microbial communities and how they respond to environmental changes.

Researchers studied the microbe in Saanich Inlet, a fjord on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

The Inlet undergoes seasonal cycles of stratification and deep water renewal, creating strong water column gradients that make the Inlet an ideal "living lab" to study microbial communities that have adapted and specialized to thrive under low oxygen conditions.

"Our analysis showed this microbe to be a key biological indicator of oceanic dead zones," said Hallam.

"The genetic blueprint of SUPO5 opens the door to studying the who's who of dead zone ecology and provides an experimental framework for asking an entirely new set of research questions. The answers could help us monitor and mitigate the impact of dead zone expansion and intensification," he added. (ANI)

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