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Images: A Green Thumb for Ocean Microbes

An electron micrograph image of Synechococcus, single-cell marine bacteria that, like plants, use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into organic building blocks. They play an important role in cycling huge amounts of carbon from air to ocean and are a big source of food at the base of the marine food chain.

(Todd M. Kana, Patricia M. Glibert in Deep Sea Research Part I 1987 )
There are many different types of Synechococcus living under various conditions in the ocean. In culture, different Synechococcus types can often be distinguished by their different colors. (Dehann Fourie, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
WHOI scientists Rob Olson and Heidi Sosik created the Imaging FlowCytobot, an instrument that acts as an automated underwater microscope, capturing high-resolution images of large-celled phytoplankton. (Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
MIT-WHOI Joint Program student Bennett Spencer Lambert helps install a new Imaging FlowCytobot at the Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory as a school of fish passes by. Plugged into a seafloor cable, the instrument receives shore-based power and transmits data back to labs. With the Imaging FlowCytobot, WHOI biologist Heidi Sosik has been able to monitor seasonal and long-term changes to plankton populations in the marine ecosystem. (Sean P. Whalen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
MIT-WHOI Joint Program student Bennett Spencer Lambert attaches a power and data cable that connects instruments on the Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory with the scientists on the mainland. The project, led by WHOI biologist Heidi Sosik, has created the first long-term record of plankton dynamics, information that will help scientists understand how the marine ecosystem responds to environmental changes. (Sean P. Whalen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
You can't just take marine bacteria out of their habitat, the ocean, and expect them to flourish in glassware in a lab. It takes lots of arcane knowledge and experience. When graduate student Kristen Hunter-Cevera needed to culture marine bacteria called Synechococcus to study them, she was fortunate to be able to consult with WHOI scientists John Waterbury and Frederica Valois who, with  the late Stanley Watson, first discovered Synechococcus in 1979. They have mastered the subtle tricks of culturing the bacteria. (Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
With cultures of different types of Synechococcus in hand, Hunter-Cevera began to investigate some of the differences among them, exploring various physiological factors and environmental conditions that control when and where each type grows, reproduces, and survives in a complex marine ecosystem.
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