SEP 04, 2015 2:44 PM PDT

Climate Change Troubles Marine Microbes

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
Ocean acidification caused by climate change is a serious threat.  Excess carbon dioxide combines with ocean water to produce carbonic acid, which impacts numerous marine organisms, including bacteria.  David Hutchins of the University of Southern California, in collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, reports that the growth of the marine bacterium Trichodesmium is significantly altered by conditions that mimic ocean acidification. 
 
Trichodesmium fixes nitrogen for use by other marine organisms.
 
Trichodesmium (Tricho, for short) is a filamentous cyanobacterium found in numerous marine waters, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.  It is sometimes called “sea sawdust”, named for the large brown blooms it forms on the ocean surface.  Cyanobacteria produce energy through photosynthesis, but Tricho also fixes atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, which can be used by other organisms.  This makes it a crucial member of the marine ecosystem.  (Unlike most bacteria, these cells are up to 4 mm long, making them visible to the naked eye!) 
 
Trichodesmium blooms are referred to as
In their study, published in Nature Communications, Hutchins and colleagues grew Tricho under conditions that mimicked the climate changes predicted for the year 2100.  Unexpectedly, these conditions drove Tricho to increase its nitrogen consumption by nearly 50%.  The bacteria also increased their growth rates and, as a result, nutrient consumption went up. 
 
The most striking finding was that these “adaptations” were permanent.  If other microbes react to climate change in the same way, marine organisms could be starved for nutrients.  According to Hutchins, “losing the ability to regulate your growth rate is not a healthy thing … the last thing you want is to be stuck with these high growth rates when there aren’t enough nutrients to go around.  It’s a losing strategy in the struggle to survive”.
 

 
 
Sources: University of Southern California, Eurekalert, Nature Communications, MicrobeWiki, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
You May Also Like
AUG 23, 2020
Microbiology
How Microbes Can Help Clean a Toxic River
AUG 23, 2020
How Microbes Can Help Clean a Toxic River
Some places in the United States have become dangerously polluted with hazardous waste. The EPA oversees a program that ...
AUG 27, 2020
Plants & Animals
Polar Bear Populations Could Collapse by 2100
AUG 27, 2020
Polar Bear Populations Could Collapse by 2100
A new study reports that polar bear populations could collapse in the next 80 years if greenhouse gas emissions remain a ...
SEP 15, 2020
Microbiology
If They Must, Methane-Eating Microbes Will Consume Ammonia
SEP 15, 2020
If They Must, Methane-Eating Microbes Will Consume Ammonia
There are many different kinds of microbes, and some can use unusual substances to survive. Methanotrophs, for example, ...
OCT 12, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Low-level air pollution correlated to school absences
OCT 12, 2020
Low-level air pollution correlated to school absences
New research published in Environmental Research Letters suggests kids aren’t going to school when air quality is ...
NOV 04, 2020
Plants & Animals
Scientists Rediscover "Lost" Chameleon Species in Madagascar
NOV 04, 2020
Scientists Rediscover "Lost" Chameleon Species in Madagascar
Voeltzkow’s chameleon was recently rediscovered after disappearing for more than 100 years. According to an articl ...
NOV 18, 2020
Health & Medicine
Rising Temperatures May Increase Tick-Borne Diseases in Humans
NOV 18, 2020
Rising Temperatures May Increase Tick-Borne Diseases in Humans
New research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene warns that climate ...
Loading Comments...