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Ocean Life Institute

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Benjamin Van Mooy

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With funding from OLI, geochemist Benjamin Van Mooy and his colleagues found that microscopic plants growing in the Sargasso Sea make their cell membranes using ‘substitute lipids’ that contain no phosphorus. Though essentially unknown until now, these substitute lipids are the most abundant membrane molecules in the sea. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Two lipid compounds, new to science, discovered by Ben Van Mooy

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Figure 1.  Two lipid compounds new to science, discovered by Benjamin Van Mooy (MC&G) in the membrane of the phytoplankton (coccolithophore), Emiliania huxleyi. The new compounds are thought to have anti-viral and possibly anti-cancer properties. (Courtesy Benjamin Van Mooy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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The Ocean Life Institute (OLI) supports basic research related to biodiversity, ecosystem health and new technologies. Research is supported through OLI fellowships, postdoctoral and graduate student awards, and research grants. OLI-sponsored research during 2009 covered a variety of topics related to the molecular biology of marine organisms.

The Tropical Research Initiative, administered by OLI, continued support for ongoing projects, including hormone transfer between corals, analysis of ancient ocean circulation patterns, equatorial waves, bacterial use of nutrients in the Pacific, and the importance of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in tropical estuaries.

OLI also supported ongoing studies at the Liquid Jungle Laboratory, Panama. We continued to develop a new initiative on the oceanography of coral reefs and have proposed a study off Taiwan in collaboration with colleagues there. A group of WHOI scientists visited Taiwan to begin design of a proposed project on Dongsha Atoll to study the possible role of internal waves in preventing coral bleaching.

OLI promoted research in ecosystem-based management, including the newly funded NOAA Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region, which establishes the framework for a modeling-observing system in the NE US coast. OLI also supported Rubao Ji (Biology) and Dennis McGillicuddy of Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering (AOPE) to use a biological-physical ocean model to help design an ocean observing system in the Gulf of Maine-Georges Bank region.

New research in 2009 included four grantees, a postdoctoral fellow and a graduate student. Karen Casciotti of the Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Department (MC&G) is studying the physiological diversity of the poorly known marine Crenarchaea, which make up 40% of deep ocean bacteria and are the most plentiful cell type on earth. Helen Fredericks and Ben Van Mooy (also in MC&G), have discovered two cell membrane lipids that are new to science and are important as anti-viral agents and in programmed cell death, with possible anti-cancer properties. Matt Johnson (Biology) and Tracy Mincer (MC&G) are studying anti-grazing compounds in marine bacteria and phytoplankton. Through a generous year-end gift, OLI was able to support research by John Stegeman and Jed Goldstone (Biology), who are developing molecular biomarkers in mussels for use as sentinels in detecting coastal pollution.

A new OLI-sponsored WHOI postdoctoral fellow, Amy Apprill, is studying the lipids of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) in temperature- and disease-stressed corals. OLI also supported MIT/WHOI Joint Program students Erin Banning (Biology), who is examining the predatory behavior of coastal bacteria, and Wu-Jung Lee (AOPE), who is studying acoustic prey recognition by toothed whales.

I would like to thank all who have supported the OLI so generously during the past year.

Cabell Davis, Institute Director

Last updated: March 23, 2010

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