ocean genomics

Mother Nature Leaves No Stone Unturned When It Comes To Iron

Ocean Genomics Businessman Craig Venter Works To Unravel Ocean Iron Mystery

Recent research spotlights illuminates a microbial ‘lichen-like’ partnership between ocean bacteria and phytoplankton

Commensal algae and bacteria bind themselves together to make sure vital iron and related vitamins keep the ocean alive and well.

So listen to your mother, take your vitamins!

Craig Venter’s life working to save the world.

Following a research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and ocean genomics billionaire Craig Venter their report (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) reveals an ocean ‘lichen-like’ relationship that facilitates and maximizes the availability of iron for ocean photosynthesis. In the world’s ocean food web, phytoplankton are the key as it is they that repurpose CO2 and sunlight into themselves, the grass of ocean pastures.

Oceanographers have long recognized iron is the most vital rarest of all things that phytoplankton blooms require.

ocean lichens

Commensal diatom algae and bacteria are ocean lichens that sustain vital iron to fuel ocean photosynthesis and life. WHOI graphic

But iron is scarce in that ocean which is the furthest away from natural iron bearing dust that blows in the wind. Compounding the scaricity for half of the year much of that ocean is covered with ice.

According to Andrew Allen and Craig Venter, senior authors on the paper, the new research indicates that particular groups of bacteria, perhaps specifically cultivated by phytoplankton, are also vital in enhancing the magnitude of phytoplankton blooms. The diatoms beloved ‘pet’ bacteria help sustain the phytoplankton by supplying them with vitamin B12.

B12 is well known for its function in making iron available to living systems, your doctor will surely prescribe vitamin B12 supplements at the first hint of you being diagnosed with iron deficient anemia. So it seems Mother Nature has prescribed vitamin B12 throughout her family.

ocean lichen

Ocean pasture ‘grass’ diatom with magnified view showing it’s bacterial commensal ‘liche-like’ partnership that in exchange for it’s loving attachment provides the diatom with vital vitamin B12 enormously improving the available iron for the diatoms photosynthesis.

The work and findings, which were supported in part by an award from the Division of Polar Programs in NSF’s Geosciences Directorate as well as by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and of course by ocean genomics pioneer Venter.

The results help in understanding how the once vastly productive polar ocean pasture ecosystems are responding to dramatic and dire changes wrought by our imposing trillions of tonnes of high and rising CO2 as a burden on our blue planet ‘Earth’.

“Through a combination of field experiments and genomic sequencing, we have obtained a new view of the microbial interactions underpinning a highly productive ecosystem,” said Allen.

Mother Nature leaves no stone/iron unturned

The study results clearly show that these ocean pasture ecosystems are naturally poised to respond swiftly to changes in availability of these nutrients and to make certain that none of the vital iron is allowed to be wasted. In fact the iron is powerfully recycled over and over and over again. The bloom and bust character of the ocean pastures is kept in bloom and away from bust by powerful natural forces.

This work adds understanding of the nature of the interactions between microorganisms in the ocean pasture and the careful balance of competitive and cooperative behaviors that exist in this most vital of all ecosystems on this blue planet. (Four out of every five breaths of air/oxygen you take in comes from ocean plankton blooms.) Researchers can now expand their work towards explaining how these relationships might change in the future as the ocean and global environment are impinged upon by the trillion tonnes of CO2 already spewed into the atmosphere in all of our yesterday’s and even more due to be emitted in the tomorrow’s of our fossil fuel/fool age.

iceberg dust lichens

Iron rich dust accumulates in Antarctic Ice later to be released as icebergs drift and melt. Click to read more

The researchers who were based in Antarctica for the field work learned that although the water often appeared teeming with a particular type of phytoplankton, called diatoms, the diatoms were typically malnourished.

Unlike some regions of the global ocean which do not contain sufficient the major fertilizer nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous that feed phytoplankton blooms, diatoms in the remote waters of McMurdo Sound are regularly starving from lack of iron along with a deficiency of vitamin B12.

“Just like humans, phytoplankton require vitamins, including vitamin B12, to survive,” said Bertrand.

She added, “We’ve shown that the phytoplankton in McMurdo Sound acquire this precious resource from a very specific group of bacteria. Those bacteria, in turn, appear to depend directly on phytoplankton to supply them with food and energy.”

Results of the study, however, suggest that here is where it gets messy.

Other groups of bacteria, also relying on the phytoplankton for food and energy, appear to compete with the diatoms for the precious vitamin B12, and all three groups of microbes are competing for iron, which, due to the extreme remoteness of the Southern Ocean, is an incredibly scarce and consequently invaluable resource.

The result, the researchers said, is a new picture of a precariously balanced system, full of microbial drama over the competition for survival.

The situation is worsening as the amount of iron arriving in oceans around the world is falling precipitously via another seemingly complex ecosystem characteristic. But it’s not so difficult to understand save in doing so we discover that the key to the problem is us and our century of fossil fuel emissions of CO2!

OK so you think CO2 is good for plant life… and you are right. CO2 helps plants grow, it is vital to them, but…

More grass growing means less dust blowing!

more grass growing

Earth has been dramatically greening over the past 33 years, and that’s good news for planet Earth but deadly news for our Blue Planet, as reported in Nature. click to read more

Our high and rising CO2 is nourishing plants on the planet Earth as is seen in dramatic ‘global greening’ recorded over the past 50+ years. All that extra plant growth is what we call ‘good ground cover’ meaning it covers the bare earth and keeps the soil in place as in not blowing in the wind.

“The greening over the past 33 years reported in this study is equivalent to adding a green continent about two-times the size of mainland USA (18 million km2), and has the ability to fundamentally change the cycling of water and carbon in the climate system,” says lead author of paper published in the Journal Nature.

We are the problem, we must be the solution

The reduction of dust in the wind due to our high and rising CO2 has already resulted in a massive many decades long ‘drought’ of dustfall in the world’s vital ocean pastures. As a result ocean pasture productivity has collapsed around the world. The good news is that we can immediately restore our oceans and their ocean pastures. Restoring ocean pastures back to the condition of health and abundance they and we enjoyed 50 years ago will repurpose the lion’s share of human CO2, both yesterday’s and tomorrow’s, into replenished ocean life. IT JUST WORKS!

You will find everywhere on this blog details of how the restoration of ocean pastures is thoroughly studied and proven safe and sustainable technology that can begin immediately at a tiny fraction of the cost of highly touted trillion dollar climate change solutions.