Microscopic ocean predator with a taste for carbon capture

Good News Notes:

Scientists at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have discovered a new species that has the potential to sequester carbon naturally, even as oceans warm and become more acidic.

The microbe, abundant around the world, photosynthesises and releases a carbon-rich exopolymer that attracts and immobilizes other microbes. It then eats some of the entrapped prey before abandoning its exopolymer “mucosphere”. Having trapped other microbes, the exopolymer is made heavier and sinks, forming part of the ocean’s natural biological carbon pump.

Marine biologist Dr. Michaela Larsson led the research, published in the journal Nature Communications, and says the study is the first to demonstrate this behavior.

Marine microbes govern oceanic biogeochemistry through a range of processes including the vertical export and sequestration of carbon, which ultimately modulates .

Dr. Larsson says that while the contribution of phytoplankton to the carbon pump is well established, the roles of other microbes are far less understood and rarely quantified. She says this is especially true for mixotrophic protists, which can simultaneously photosynthesise, and consume other organisms.

“Most terrestrial plants use nutrients from the soil to grow, but some, like the Venus flytrap, gain additional nutrients by catching and consuming insects. Similarly, marine microbes that photosynthesise, known as phytoplankton, use nutrients dissolved in the surrounding seawater to grow,” Dr. Larsson says.

“However, our study organism, Prorocentrum cf. balticum, is a mixotroph, so is also able to eat other microbes for a concentrated hit of nutrients, like taking a multivitamin. Having the capacity to acquire nutrients in different ways means this microbe can occupy parts of the ocean devoid of dissolved nutrients and therefore unsuitable for most phytoplankton.”

Professor Martina Doblin, senior author of the study, says the findings have global significance for how we see the ocean balancing  in the atmosphere….”

View the whole story here: https://phys.org/news/2022-03-microscopic-ocean-predator-carbon-capture.amp

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