Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genomic comparison of ocean microbes reveals East-West divide in populations

Date:
October 19, 2010
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Much as an anthropologist can study populations of people to learn about their physical attributes, their environs and social structures, some marine microbiologists read the genome of microbes to glean information about the microbes themselves, their environments and lifestyles.

To obtain microbe samples, scientists on the R/V Kilo Moana oceanographic research ship lower a rosette holding 24 bottles that capture samples at different ocean depths in the Pacific Ocean.
Credit: Photo by Maureen Coleman

Much as an anthropologist can study populations of people to learn about their physical attributes, their environs and social structures, some marine microbiologists read the genome of microbes to glean information about the microbes themselves, their environments and lifestyles.

Related Articles


Using a relatively new methodology called comparative population genomics, these scientists compare the entire genomes of different populations of the same microbe to see which genes are "housekeeping" or core genes essential to all populations and which are population-specific. Scientists are able to read a genome and translate the genes into proteins that serve particular functions. Population-specific genes sometimes tell a very clear story about the environment, for instance temperature and the availability of light and particular elements, and over time, they can point to the microbes' evolutionary adaptation to changes in the ecosystem. Occasionally, as was the case with recent research at MIT, the population-specific genes reveal this information with crystal clarity, even providing unmistakable clues about lifestyle.

Professor Sallie (Penny) W. Chisholm of MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and former doctoral student Maureen Coleman compared the genetic makeup of two populations of the same oceanic photosynthetic bacterium, Prochlorococcus, one living in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Pacific.

They found that although a continent separates the populations, they differ significantly in only one respect: those in the Atlantic have many more genes specifically related to the scavenging of phosphorus, an essential element for these microbes. And just as the variations in the beaks of Darwin's finches were evolutionary adaptations related to food availability, so too are the variations in the Prochlorococcus genes related to phosphorus gathering. Both are examples of a powerful evolutionary force at work.

"We expected to see some difference in the genes related to phosphorus, because the Atlantic Ocean has an order of magnitude lower concentration of phosphorus than the Pacific, so Atlantic populations of Prochlorococcus carry many more genes involved in extracting phosphorus from the seawater. They need more creative ways of gathering it. But we didn't expect it to be the only difference," said Chisholm. "This indicates that phosphorus availability is the dominant selective force in defining these populations."

The researchers also noted that the microbes in the Atlantic Ocean had increased numbers of phosphorus-related genes that helped them neutralize arsenic, an element they sometimes take up by mistake when they're scavenging for phosphorus. This finding "buttresses the assertion" that this is the result of a strong selective process, Chisholm said.

"We're really diagnosing the ecosystem using a specific species of microbe as a reporter," said Chisholm. "We're letting the cells tell us what they have to deal with in their environment."

She and Coleman also compared the genomes of two populations of a neighboring bacterium, Pelagibacter, and found that genes related to phosphorus gathering in that bacterium appear in far greater numbers in the Atlantic Ocean population, but with a twist. These microbes have a somewhat different repertoire of phosphorus-related genes, suggesting subtle differences between these two microbial groups with respect to how they scavenge phosphorus. This could reflect an adaptive behavior known as "niche partitioning," which allows cells sharing a microenvironment to apportion resources according to a cell's "lifestyle" rather than all competing for the same element or same form of that element.

To obtain these findings, which were published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Oct. 11, the two scientists used the complete genomes of 13 strains of lab-cultured Prochlorococcus and Pelagibacter as reference genes, and compared these with the genes of well-documented wild microbe populations gathered at long-term oceanographic study stations near Bermuda (BATS) and Hawaii (HOTS). The work was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The next step in this research is to make similar studies at different depths and locations to study the effects of temperature and chemical gradients on the genomes of microbial populations.

"How fast marine microbes adapt to environmental change is a big unknown," said Coleman, who is now a postdoctoral associate at Caltech. "One way to address this is to sample the population genomes over time, with parallel environmental monitoring. We might then be able to catch evolution in action. Long term study sites like HOT and BATS are crucial for this effort."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. L. Coleman, S. W. Chisholm. Ecosystem-specific selection pressures revealed through comparative population genomics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009480107

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Genomic comparison of ocean microbes reveals East-West divide in populations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101011173551.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2010, October 19). Genomic comparison of ocean microbes reveals East-West divide in populations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101011173551.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Genomic comparison of ocean microbes reveals East-West divide in populations." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101011173551.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) — Scientists in Amsterdam say couples transfer tens of millions of microbes when they kiss, encouraging healthy exposure to bacteria. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) — Cambridge scientists have unravelled the genetic code of a rare tapeworm that lived inside a patient's brain for at least four year. Researchers hope it will present new opportunities to diagnose and treat this invasive parasite. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) — Polish scientists isolate bacteria from earthworm intestines which they say may be used in antibiotics and cancer treatments. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) — A team of scientists led by Danish chemist Jorn Christensen says they have isolated two chemical compounds within an existing antipsychotic medication that could be used to help a range of failing antibiotics work against killer bacterial infections, such as Tuberculosis. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins