Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Microbiologists eavesdrop on the hidden lives of microbes

Date:
January 23, 2013
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Microbiologists who study wild marine microbes, as opposed to the lab-grown variety, face enormous challenges in getting a clear picture of the daily activities of their subjects. But a team of scientists recently figured out how to make the equivalent of a nature film, showing the simultaneous activities of many coexisting species in their native habitat over time.

A DNA-binding-dye stained fluorescence micrograph of naturally occurring marine bacterioplankton.
Credit: Edward DeLong

Microbiologists who study wild marine microbes, as opposed to the lab-grown variety, face enormous challenges in getting a clear picture of the daily activities of their subjects. But a team of scientists from MIT and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently figured out how to make the equivalent of a nature film, showing the simultaneous activities of many coexisting species in their native habitat over time.

Related Articles


Instead of making a movie, the scientists used a robotic device that dangled below the surface of the ocean, drifting in the water with a neighborhood of microbial populations and gathering samples of one billion microbes every four hours. Similar to fast photography that stops action, the robotic device "fixed" each sample so that whatever genes the microbes were expressing at the moment of capture were preserved for later study in the lab, where the scientists used whole-genome gene-expression analysis to create a time-lapse montage of the daily labors of multiple microbial species over a two-day period.

"A naturalist like Sir David Attenborough can follow a herd of elk and see how the elk's behavior changes hour to hour, day to day and week to week. But we haven't been able to observe naturally occurring microbes with that kind of resolution until now," says Edward DeLong, the Morton and Claire Goulder Family Professor in Environmental Systems in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Biological Engineering.

DeLong is senior author of a paper on the study appearing online the week of Jan. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors on the paper are Elizabeth Ottesen, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at the University of Georgia; MIT postdoc Curtis Young and research engineer John Eppley; and senior research specialist John Ryan, senior scientist Francisco Chavez, and president Christopher Scholin of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

"We've essentially captured a day in the life of these microbes," DeLong says. "As little as three years ago, I wouldn't have even have considered it possible to get such a high resolution picture of microbial population dynamics and activity in the 'real world.'"

Because microbes are extraordinarily sensitive to slight environmental changes and alter their gene expression rapidly in response to fluctuations in temperature, light, nutrient availability and other environmental variables, the genes they express tell a story about their habitat and their interactions with it: In essence, changes in their gene expression provide information on the good times and the bad times they experience. In a sense, each naturally occurring microbe is a living sensor; the researchers read the sensors' outputs by studying their gene expression.

The montage showed that photosynthetic microbes, which create the oxygen, energy and organic carbon used by the rest of the food web, ramped up their light-utilizing activities in the morning and powered those down at night, just as their domestic brethren do in response to light and dark in the lab.

But the underwater scenes also showed something scientists had never seen before: Nonphotosynthetic, carbon-eating microbes of very different species displayed synchronized, rapidly varying metabolic gene expression. Some of the genes simultaneously expressed by different species shared the same function -- for instance, genes associated with growth or respiration. Others encoded very different functions, mirroring the varied metabolic capabilities of the disparate species. The simultaneous expression of these genes indicates that the microbes were responding to similar environmental changes, probably in the nature or quantity of organic matter available in the immediate vicinity.

They all may have been responding to the same cue or possibly one species may have acted as a first responder, signaling other species when it changed its own gene expression.

"In this work, the scientists use robots on buoys to do the sampling, which allows excellent resolution in both time and space, and they're therefore able to look at the functions that a range of different types of plankton are expressing," says Rob Knight, an associate professor of molecular biophysics at the University of Colorado. "The information should be really useful for developing predictive models that help us understand how marine plankton will respond to factors such as climate change and ocean acidification, by revealing the networks by which genes interact with each other to produce complex biological functions."

The work was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Agouron Institute.


Story Source:

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


Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Microbiologists eavesdrop on the hidden lives of microbes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130123133855.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2013, January 23). Microbiologists eavesdrop on the hidden lives of microbes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130123133855.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Microbiologists eavesdrop on the hidden lives of microbes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130123133855.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 27, 2014) A British palaeontologist has discovered a new species of dinosaur while studying fossils in a Canadian museum. Pentaceratops aquilonius was related to Triceratops and lived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 75 million years ago. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) Researchers in the United States are preparing to discover whether a drug commonly used in human organ transplants can extend the lifespan and health quality of pet dogs. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
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