SCOPE-ALOHA Project: Connecting Genomes and Metabolomes to their Biogeochemical Consequences at Station ALOHA
The marine microbiome is a complex system of individuals that live in a ‘noisy’ world. In order to succeed, many have evolved sophisticated pathways for ‘listening’ to their environment and regulating their own metabolism, as well as that of others, in response to what they ‘hear.’ These regulatory networks involve chemical sensors and biosynthetic capabilities that allow exploitation of scarce resources as well as engagement and evasion of friends and foes.
The nature and implications of these chemical interactions in the marine microbial realm remain relatively unknown. As part of this collaborative effort, we will apply tools to study the chemical communication pathways that have evolved to allow microorganisms to ‘listen’ to their environment, ‘talk’ to each other and entrain physiological responses to what they ‘hear.’ Our ultimate goal will be to link gene expression and chemical messaging with observations and models of large-scale biogeochemical cycling of energy and matter in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.
Marine microbial diversity and function vary across environmental gradients in the ocean with implications for the flow of nutrients and energy through ecosystems. Small molecules, or metabolites, are produced by and exchanged among microbes to mediate this flow of energy and nutrients within complex communities. We hypothesize that the metabolite pool of a community is sensitive to taxonomy, physiology and environment. In particular, the ratio of resources supplied to the community across environmental gradients may determine the molecular makeup of cells and therefor the pathway by which nutrients and energy flow. We will measure community metabolomes and carry out experiments at sea and in the laboratory to test this hypothesis.
Anitra Ingalls is a professor in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington. She received her B.A. from Reed College and her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University. She completed her postdoctoral training at Harvard University and Columbia University before joining the faculty at the University of Washington in 2002. Ingalls specializes in using organic molecules as a window into the metabolic capabilities of marine microbes. She recently established the Microbial Metabolomics Research Center, a mass spectrometry facility focused on the study of environmentally significant microbes.