Benjamin Van Mooy, Ph.D.

Associate Scientist, Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionBenjamin Van Mooy’s website

SCOPE-ALOHA Project: Linkages Between Microbial Nutrient Stress, Mortality and Lateral Interactions at ALOHA Revealed by Using Lipidomics

Microbes operate on tiny spatial scales and rapid time scales. Yet the combined metabolic activity of microbes affects global-scale biogeochemical cycles that drive variations in Earth’s climate over millennia. This is particularly true of the microbes in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), which due to the sheer size of their environment exert a profound influence on our planet. The biogeochemical significance of different groups of microbes in the NPSG is fundamentally controlled by their ability to compete for nutrients (i.e., bottom-up controls) and evade their respective agents of mortality (i.e. top-down, controls). In addition, there is a growing recognition that ‘lateral’ controls (inter- and intra-species microbial interactions mediated by cell-cell signaling) also have the potential to critically mediate biogeochemical fluxes within marine microbial ecosystems.

Our goal is to simultaneously probe bottom-up, top-down, and lateral controls, both at high temporal resolution in NPSG plankton communities and at high spatial resolution in microbial consortia of sinking particles and cyanobacteria colonies. The research we conduct will depend critically on state-of-the-art lipidomics methods. Lipidomics is complementary to ‘omics’ methods used by other SCOPE investigators, and also offers a number of distinct advantages. First and foremost amongst these is that lipids play key roles in the immediate microbial responses to external nutrient fluctuations and mortality that occur on timescales of seconds and are unlikely to be regulated at either the transcriptional or translational levels. Lipids also form the basis for cell-cell signaling systems that underpin lateral interaction amongst microbes. The knowledge gained from this research will provide new insights on microbial-scale processes that ultimately affect biogeochemical cycles of the NPSG.


Benjamin Van Mooy is an associate scientist in the marine chemistry and geochemistry department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He received his B.A. in chemistry and geology at Northwestern University before earning his Ph.D. in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington. Working at the interface of microbial ecology, chemical oceanography, and organic geochemistry, Van Mooy seeks to understand how biogeochemical fluxes of different elements intersect through microbial biosynthesis and remineralization. His research thereby contributes to the elucidation and quantification of microbial processes that define the role of the oceans in Earth’s climate.

A leader in the burgeoning field of marine lipidomics, he has used the analysis of organic molecules to probe physiological responses to phosphorus stress, define the molecular determinants of viral infection and constrain the role of bacterial quorum sensing in the degradation of organic carbon and phosphorus. His lab’s work on lipid-derived infochemicals seeks to determine the impact of cell-cell signaling on the export of carbon, silicon and other elements from the surface- to the deep-ocean. His lab group also pursues applied research topics, including instrument development, ship-hull biofouling, algal biofuels and petroleum degradation.

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