Oceanus Magazine
Back to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Homepage

Images: Bacterial 'Conversations' Have Impact on Climate

A team of biogeochemists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution traveled to Clayoquot Sound off Vancouver Island in 2009 to collect samples of particles of sinking marine detritus. They studied how marine bacteria coordinate their actions to break the particles apart. Aboard the research vessel Barnes are, from left, Tracy Mincer, Rose Kantor (a WHOI Summer Student Fellow), Laura Hmelo, and Benjamin Van Mooy. (Photo courtesy of Laura R. Hmelo)

Tiny marine plants (phytoplankton) die or are eaten by tiny marine animals (zooplankton) which defecate into the water. All this detritus is sticky and agglomerates into heavier particles that sink. This epifluorescence micrograph of a stained gelatinous particle (about 200 microns in size) was harvested from a particle trap set 60 meters deep in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia, Canada, in 2009. Note individual microbial cells (about 0.5 to 2 microns in length) embedded in gelatinous material together with other plankton “hard parts.” (Photo by Tracy Mincer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The scientists deployed sediment traps into the sound to collect sinking particles. Back in the lab at WHOI, they analyzed samples to determine that bacteria send out chemical signals to sense if other bacteria are nearby. (Photo by Rose Kantor, WHOI Summer Student Fellow)