A while back I wrote this post on efforts to sequence the DNA of sea going bacteria. Research in that area has continued and new findings have recently been reported. They are quite fascinating – so much so I am putting off several other posts (one of these days I’ll get that post on the evolution of voltage gated sodium channels written) so I can blog about it (since I have been blogging about bacteria a lot I have been getting this strange compulsion to change the name of my blog to Aetiology Jr. – nah!)
Each cubic centimeter of seawater is inhabited by thousands of different types of bacteria. In the post I linked to above I talked about attempts to sequence the DNA of species from different depths. The new research took a different approach. What researchers tried to do was sequence the combined DNA of all the microbes in a single sample of seawater (in order to get their samples the researchers had to process over 160 gallons of seawater per sample in order to obtain enough DNA). From Science Daily:
One of the researchers’ overall goals was to determine how the microbes near the surface are different from those that live thousands of meters down. Not surprisingly, in samples from the sunlit waters within about 100 meters of the surface, the researchers found a lot of microbial DNA sequences that were associated with photosynthesis. This means many microbes in these waters were probably using sunlight as a source of energy. Surface samples also contained microbial DNA that was associated with movement and propulsion. This suggests that movement is important for these microbes, perhaps helping them follow chemical gradients or move from food particle to food particle.
In contrast, DNA from microbes in deeper waters suggests many survive by attaching to and breaking down particles of organic material. Such particles continually sink down from the surface waters into the deep sea, providing food for many organisms in the form of ‘marine snow.’
The most interesting result was the finding of large amounts of viral DNA in the samples. Researchers think this viral DNA came from infected bacteria since they excluded free living viruses from their sample. Most of the viral DNA came from near surface waters.
Filed under: Bacteria