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Traditionally, the importance of inorganic nitrogen (N) for the nutrition and growth of marine phytoplankton has been recognized, while inorganic N utilization by bacteria has received less attention. Likewise, organic N has been thought to be important for heterotrophic organisms but not for phytoplankton. However, accumulating evidence suggests that bacteria compete with phytoplankton for nitrate (NO3-) and other N species. The consequences of this competition may have a profound effect on the flux of N, and therefore carbon (C), in ocean margins. Because it has been difficult to differentiate between N uptake by heterotrophic bacterioplankton versus autotrophic phytoplankton, the processes that control N utilization, and the consequences of these competitive interactions, have traditionally been difficult to study. Significant bacterial utilization of DIN may have a profound effect on the flux of N and C in the water column because sinks for dissolved N that do not incorporate inorganic C represent mechanisms that reduce the atmospheric CO2 drawdown via the ?biological pump? and limit the flux of POC from the euphotic zone. This project was active over the period of 1998-2007 with support from the DOE Biotechnology Investigations ? Ocean Margins Program (BI-OMP). Over this period we developed a tool kitmore » of molecular methods (PCR, RT-PCR, Q-PCR, QRT-PCR, and TRFLP) and combined isotope mass spectrometry and flow-cytometric approaches that allow selective isolation, characterization, and study of the diversity and genetic expression (mRNA) of the structural gene responsible for the assimilation of NO3- by heterotrophic bacteria (nasA). As a result of these studies we discovered that bacteria capable of assimilating NO3- are ubiquitous in marine waters, that the nasA gene is expressed in these environments, that heterotrophic bacteria can account for a significant fraction of total DIN uptake in different ocean margin systems, that the expression of nasA is differentially regulated in genetically distinct NO3- assimilating bacteria, and that the best predictors of nasA gene expression are either NO3- concentration or NO3- uptake rates. These studies provide convincing evidence of the importance of bacterial utilization of NO3-, insight into controlling processes, and provide a rich dataset that are being used to develop linked C and N modeling components necessary to evaluate the significance of bacterial DIN utilization to global C cycling. Furthermore, as a result of BI-OMP funding we made exciting strides towards institutionalizing a research and education based collaboration between the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) and Savannah State University (SSU), an historically black university within the University System of Georgia with undergraduate and now graduate programs in marine science. The BI-OMP program, in addition to supporting undergraduate (24) graduate (10) and postdoctoral (2) students, contributed to the development of a new graduate program in Marine Sciences at SSU that remains an important legacy of this project. The long-term goals of these collaborations are to increase the capacity for marine biotechnology research and to increase representation of minorities in marine, environmental and biotechnological sciences.« less
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  1. Skidaway Institute of Oceanography
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE/ER/62531-038-1 Final Report
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Skidaway Institute of Oceanography
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC)
Country of Publication:
United States
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; Marine Bacteria, Carbon Cycling, Nitrogen Cycling, Molecular methods, Workforce Diversity