Jamie Becker, Biology


Utilization of phytoplankton-derived dissolved organic carbon by coastal bacterioplankton

The ocean and its inhabitants play an important role in the processing of carbon on our planet. Microorganisms in particular are active players, converting carbon into various forms and ultimately helping to decide whether it ends up floating in our atmosphere or buried in the sea. Interactions between marine microbes and carbon have direct effects on the health and climate of our planet and understanding what these interactions are and how they occur will help us to better plan for the future.

My work is focused on a particular form of carbon called organic carbon. Organic carbon is produced by microorganisms in the sea that do photosynthesis (just like plants on land). Microorganisms that cannot do photosynthesis rely on the consumption of this organic carbon for their survival. There are about a million microscopic organisms in every drop of seawater and they produce and consume a large amount of organic carbon every day. The balance between this production and consumption and the relationships between these microbes are largely unknown. In general, we do not yet know which microbes produce and consume what types of organic carbon and we have limited understanding of how these processes change under different environmental conditions.

To investigate these questions, I am growing representative microbes in the laboratory to study how they produce and consume organic carbon under controlled conditions. My COI-supported research focuses on the chemical characterization of organic carbon produced by different marine microbes and the feeding of this material to other marine microbes in order to establish links between different organisms through the carbon they make and use. To do this, I am collaborating with researchers at the University of Hawaii and using advanced techniques including ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometry and next generation high-throughput sequencing technology. We are beginning to uncover connections between organisms that may serve as model systems of organic carbon processing for years to come and greatly expand our knowledge of how carbon is processed in the sea.

Without the generous support I have received from the Stanley W. Watson Foundation Ocean Institutes Support for Students and Post Doctoral Fellows, it would have been impossible to pursue a major thrust of my research and I am deeply grateful for this support.