ocean bacteria

The Most Abundant Plankton Are The Ocean Bacteria

In the beginning this world was home only to ocean bacteria, they alone colonized and lived on this blue planet for billions of years before they built and rented the ‘Wendy house’ in the garden to the rest of us.

A new report on studies of the most abundant of the marine bacteria reasserts how they make most of our clouds and control our planets climate.


This is where there is the most life on Earth – 99% of all life. Not the typical ‘terran-centric’ view of our blue planet we typically are shown, where is the land? CLICK TO READ MORE ABOUT LIFE ON THIS BLUE PLANET

Given that this is a blue planet where 72% of it is ocean it should not be surprising to learn that our climate is shaped by the most abundant form of life on ‘earth’, or more properly stated, life in ‘ocean’ the ocean bacteria.  For decades some ocean scientists have been studying the microscopic world of life that the ocean holds as the first and foremost life on our blue planet.

Studying the world of slimy things is not nearly so manly as building macho deep diving submarines to display ones prowess upon achieving ever deeper penetration into the oceans depths. But ocean plankton science is really most important of all as the plankton world contains 99% of all life on and in this blue planet.

Now a new research group reports on the bacterial group Pelagibacterales, the most abundant organism at the ocean’s surface and thus surely the most abundant across the entire ‘Earth.’  The boffins found these marine plankton bacters are involved in an powerful process that helps regulate our climate – the production of the cloud forming gas dimethylsulfide (DMS). Keep in mind that the vast majority of planet cooling clouds are over the oceans.

“These types of ocean bacteria are among the most abundant organisms on Earth – comprising up to half a million microbial cells found in every teaspoon of seawater.” said Jonathon Todd of the University of East Anglia

Pico-plankton and ocean bacteria

Ocean plankton first colonized this world 3 billion years ago, they know something about keeping sustainable ecosystems, we should pay attention to them. Click to read their Plankton Manifesto which is a warning from our ‘landlords’ to behave ourselves lest we face eviction.

This report adds to many earlier similar reports that prove the present ‘terran-centric’ climate models are far from accurate as they have blatantly ignored the most powerful influence and influencers of all on the climate of our blue planet. Perhaps one day soon we humans will acknowledge the fact that this is a world where we are sub-letting the basement suite from the long standing ‘oceanlords’ who have inhabited this blue planet for billions of years before they deigned to allow our kind to evolve and share their beautiful blue world. We might even get around to fixing our ‘climate models’ so that they are driven by the real power on this planet, the plankton!

In the course of their work, published Monday in Nature Microbiology, the researchers observed two gases being produced by the bacteria: DMS and methanethiol. The important one for this story is the DMS.

CLAW_hypothesis run by ocean bacteria

CLAW hypothesis of how clouds created by plankton control our climate – click to enlarge

DMS is powerfully involved in cloud formation, forming a critical link in a negative feedback loop known as the CLAW hypothesis: Sunlight stimulates the production of phytoplankton, which in turn produce dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). Other microbes break this down to form DMS, which boosts the formation of clouds, reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the ocean.

“Here’s what I think is important,” Dr. Giovannoni, one of the researchers says. “We’re studying the most abundant organism in the ocean surface and we’ve discovered an unusual mechanism that produces DMS…. Ultimately the question is how are compounds made by this organism affecting the climate?”

One commonly recognized roles of this bacteria is to oxidize (aka rot) organic matter back into carbon dioxide. As much as 5 to 20 percent of all carbon dioxide fixed on Earth in a given day may be produced by Pelagibacterales.

A second role they play is the production the gas DMS it is something other than a typical greenhouse gas. Science have long known that some marine bacteria cleaved DMSP into DMS, but this report highlights the great significance of this abundant class of plankton bacters.

The researchers dove into the chemistry and genetics of the bacters and found their DMS climate control technology shows no latency: When the levels of DMSP reach a certain threshold, production of DMS shifts into gear smoothly, immediately.

I am sure that the bacters are behaving like typical ultra-intelligent aliens from Science Fiction and saying to each other, “At last the ugly bags of mostly water get it, maybe now they will start behaving themselves.”

Timeline of ocean bacteria and life on 'earth'

Timeline of oceans and life on ‘earth’ Notice just how long our bacter oceanlords have been around and how little time we have been.

For us understanding this basic knowledge about our ‘oceanlords’ offer us some promise that we might make major changes of our ‘terran-centric’ climate models so that the reflect reality.

Bigger isn’t Better!

“What’s fascinating is the elegance and simplicity of DMS production in the Pelagibacterales,” said Ben Temperton, of the University of Exeter, England, in a press release. “These organisms don’t have the genetic regulatory mechanisms found in most bacteria. Having evolved in nutrient-limited oceans, they have some of the smallest genomes of all free-living organisms, because small genomes take fewer resources to replicate.”

The Pelagibacterales are such simple organisms, and so abundant, one question is why has this pathway remained hidden until now, awaiting accidental discovery?

The answer, unsurprising to those not overwhelmed by testosterone, lies in their very simplicity, thier smallness. They evolved over a billion years into “streamlined cells,” honing their role into something small and specific, and discarding unnecessary genes along the way.

“You’ve seen these all-terrain vehicles,” explains Giovannoni by way of illustration. “They can go through anything because they’re heavily laden with equipment. Then look at a race car – light and simple.”

“In our research, we tend to focus on these all-terrain vehicles because they’re juggernauts and nothing stops them.”

But as scientists gradually find more reliable methods of studying these simple, most abundant, most long lived creatures, they may turn out to be a key that unlocks our understanding of a multitude of systems.

“I believe they’re going to turn out to be very important ecologically,” says Giovannoni. “They may turn out to be important in lots of natural processes.”

Blue Planet Sub-Lease Agreement – are we in arrears

The marine bacters that make up the majority of ocean plankton pasture life do in fact hold the lease on this blue planet. While they rent us the Wendy house in the garden they expect us to help take care of the place. We terrans must become caring stewards and tennants of our ocean pastures beginning with restoration and replenishment of those ocean pastures to the condition of health and abundance they and we enjoyed before our fossil fuel age CO2 began degrading them resulting in a loss of 1% per year of ocean pasture life that has been observed to be taking place for decades.

You will find everywhere on this blog just how we can immediately, affordably, and enjoyably full-fill the obligations of our renters agreement with our oceanlord bacters.

As for Science Fiction offering some prescient ideas.