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WHOI biogeochemist Mak Saito's research focuses on the nutritional requirements of metals in marine microbes, with an emphasis on their proteins.

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Technician Kristen Rathjen displays flasks in which microscopic marine organisms have been growing for a week. Each flask contains one strain of microbe in a nutrient broth. The broth, which started out pale beige, now appears colored due to the natural pigments of the microbes.

Foundation Support Enables Microbial and Radionuclide Research

There are more microbes in a bucket of seawater than there are people on Earth. Despite their abundance, humans are only just beginning to fathom the complex role marine microbes play in the ocean ecosystem.

Three projects at the Institution, which received a total of $5.2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative, are employing scientific inquiry and the latest technology and laboratory techniques to shed light on microbes. Their work will look for answers to questions regarding the flow of nutrients through microbial food webs—who eats and secretes what, where and when—and the resulting biogeochemical transformation.

“The support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is critical to enabling a fundamental understanding of microbes’ contribution to ocean health and productivity,” WHOI President and Director Susan Avery said. “There is so much more to know about marine microbes’ genetic diversity, how they secure nutrients, what other organisms they interact with, and the biogeochemical changes they bring about in the ocean. These new projects will contribute toward the ultimate goal of a comprehensive understanding of marine microbial communities.”

The funded projects to WHOI include:
•    Investigating Dissolved Organic Matter in the 
     Microbial Loop (WHOI chemist Dan Repeta with
     Ed DeLong at MIT)
•    Identification and Quantification of New Biomarkers
     for Key Microbial Species (WHOI chemist Elizabeth Kujawinski)
•    Infochemical Control of Microbial Carbon and Nutrient Cycling
     in the North Atlantic (WHOI chemists Ben Van Mooy and
     Tracy Mincer, and WHOI biologist Matt Johnson, with Kay Bidle 
     at Rutgers and Assaf Vardi at the Weizmann Institute of Science
     in Israel)

The Moore Foundation also announced that biogeochemist Mak Saito received a prestigious Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator Award. Mak was one of 16 scientists from around the world chosen to receive this highly competitive award, designed to give leading researchers the flexibility to pursue riskier projects and unusual collaborations. The funding will enable the investigators to explore how the trillions upon trillions of microscopic organisms at the base of the ocean’s food webs interact with each other and their environment, providing new insights—and helping to pose entirely new questions—that may help us address pressing issues such as climate change.