Marine bacteria that live in the dark depths of the ocean play a newly discovered and significant role in the global carbon cycle, according to a new study published in Science.
The “dark ocean” – everything that lies below 200 meters – makes up 90 percent of the ocean. Very little is known about the microscopic life in this realm and its critical role in transforming carbon dioxide to cell material, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. This freshly produced organic material can then be consumed by other marine organisms enhancing the productivity of the ocean.
Most dark ocean carbon is captured in the mesopelagic zone, which lies between 200 and 1000 meters below the ocean surface. Identities of microorganisms performing this process and the energy sources involved have remained a great mystery. By analyzing the genomes found in seawater samples from this zone, scientists from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have now identified some of most significant contributors – nitrite-oxidizing bacteria.
“We knew these bacteria were there and involved in the global carbon cycle, but their role is so much larger than what scientists previously thought,” said Maria Pachiadaki, postdoctoral scientist at Bigelow Laboratory.
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