cyanobacter ocean life

Foundation Of Ocean Life Thrives In A Happy Cooperative Marriage

Life emerged on this blue planet some 4 billion years ago, it began as microscopic bacterial plankton.

Our world is still dominated by bacteria they number at least this many, 8,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!
( that’s 30 zero’s)

It seems they learned how to support each other and that is a big part of what keeps our oceans alive and well.

Essential microbiological interactions that keep our ocean life stable are being revealed by researchers at the University of Warwick.

Plankton manifesto from ocean life


Dr Joseph Christie-Oleza and Professor David Scanlan from the School of Life Sciences have discovered that two of the most abundant types of microorganism in the oceans — phototrophic and heterotrophic bacteria — feed each other to cycle nutrients. One result is they are perhaps the most powerful force on this blue planet for consuming CO2 from the atmosphere and feeding the ocean pasture ecosystem.

For many this is heresy and contrary to the popular scientific dogma that marine phototrophs and heterotrophs live in a dog eat dog world where they compete with each other to consume the scarce nutrients found in seawater.

Phototrophic bacteria are photosynthetic and use sunlight to extract ‘fix’ carbon dioxide from the air, and convert this into organic matter, aka themselves. They are consumed by their spousal heterotrophs, which in turn release nutrients back to the ecosystem so the phototrophic bacteria can continue to do their job: photosynthesise and fix more carbon and sustain endless generations of both.

Their interaction keeps the level of nutrients in the ocean balanced and healthy and ultimately sustains the entire marine food web. More than half of the planet’s primary production and the oxygen we breathe rely on this marriage. The speed at which these nutrients are circulated defines the rate at which the oceans work to manage carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is the principal greenhouse gas.

lab culture flasks

Lab cultures of auto & hetero trophs

The researchers observed this interaction by growing pure cultures of each bacteria in the laboratory, and putting them together in natural seawater and doing nutrient and molecular analyses over a long timeframe.

Surprisingly, both microorganisms reached a stable state where the phototrophic and heterotrophic bacteria were seen to be mutually benefiting each other — with the phototrophs consuming inorganic nutrients and light to fix carbon, and the heterotrophs using the leaked organic carbon as a source of carbon and energy and returning inorganic nutrients to the phototroph.

“A deeper understanding of these essential processes which keep the ocean’s ‘engine’ running will help improve how we look after our waters — and will allow us to better predict how oceans will react in the future to a changing climate with increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” commented Professor Scanlan, who is Professor in Marine Microbiology in the School of Life Sciences.

“Here we give experimental evidence of a basic concept in ecology, where nutrients need to circulate to maintain a stable ecosystem, like money in the economy! If one of the partners takes too much and doesn’t give back, he/she will suffer the consequences in the long term. The system will self-regulate and always reach a stable state,” commented Dr Christie-Oleza.

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!

Journal Reference: Joseph A. Christie-Oleza, Despoina Sousoni, Matthew Lloyd, Jean Armengaud, David J. Scanlan. Nutrient recycling facilitates long-term stability of marine microbial phototroph–heterotroph interactions. Nature Microbiology, 2017; 2: 17100 DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.100