Issue: Oceans

05 February 2019 article


Happy New Year! We are already in the second month of 2019 and I would like to welcome everyone to the first edition of Microbiology Today for this year and wish everyone the best of luck with their endeavours in 2019. We’re starting off the year by considering the effect microbes have on the world’s oceans. The oceans have fascinated people for centuries, and have been utilised for travel, food and for pleasure. Increasingly, we now also see that the oceans are a wonderful source of microbial diversity.

As research advances, so does our understanding of how oceanic microbes can impact on the world. In this issue, our authors demonstrate the variety of roles microbes can hold, ranging from conservation through to novel antimicrobial agents.

First in this edition is Amy Apprill, whose research investigates the role of microbiota in marine conservation. Questioning how changes in environmental niches have impacted on the resident microbial flora within those niches, Amy discusses how improving understanding of the baseline microbiome of marine populations could aid our efforts to protect and conserve ocean species in the future.

Moving from conservation to self-preservation, Aoife Boyd walks us through the potential dangers of consuming the bacteria associated with shellfish. A much-loved tasty treat enjoyed by many can lead to food poisoning if it harbours certain pathogens. Aoife provides details on how research into Vibrio has shown how multiple virulence factors, including toxins, can cause a series of opportunistic diseases in those unlucky enough to ingest these bacteria. Aoife also provides us with information how shellfish diseases caused by the same pathogens can affect shellfish aquaculture on a global scale.

Providing a glimpse into another area of research, which could have direct implications for human health, Mat Upton, Matthew Koch and Kerry Howell discuss the potential for sea sponges in medicine. Could these ancient life forms be the source of novel antimicrobial compounds needed to combat antimicrobial resistance? Research using the latest sampling technology has allowed the hunt for these deep sea sponges, their associated microflora and bioactive compounds to go to previously unexplored depths.

The process of obtaining samples from deep or remote locations at sea has traditionally been limited by ship-based logistics. To better understand how ocean microbes impact on biogeochemical cycles, Susan Evans, Jim Birch, John Breier, Michael Jakuba, Mak Saito and Julie Robidart have been using autonomous samplers unconstrained by those limitations. Giving an overview of three novel autonomous samplers, they describe how molecular ecology research can be enhanced through technology. They provide examples of where this new technology has already led to the discovery of microbial activity previously undetected at sea.

In our last themed piece, Elina Laanto reminds us of the diversity and number of marine viruses and how these have substantial influence on both food webs and biogeochemical cycling in the oceans. Discussing how the interactions between viruses and hosts can control microbial population and influence the nutrients available in surface waters, Elina also reminds us that climate change could alter these interactions. However, as viruses are often omitted from modelling, the impact on and from marine viruses in response to change in the marine environment is largely undefined.

For our Comment piece, Aditee Mitra addresses the role of mixotrophs in the oceans, providing details of how mixotrophs impact in perhaps unexpected ways. Involved in a diverse range of activities, these microbes can impact on our atmosphere, as well as producing components which are utilised in the production of everyday consumables. Traditionally underrepresented in research, Aditee demonstrates to us how mixotrophs actually dominate in the oceans and how they achieve their success.

Rowena Jenkins

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Image: False-colour composite satellite image of what appears to be a large bloom of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) swirling in the Baltic Sea. NASA/Science Photo Library.