Bay Paul Center

Collaborative marine science took a leap of global proportions on June 21, 2014. At carefully orchestrated times on that day, hundreds of scientists around the world collected ocean samples, using standardized protocols, as part of the first international Ocean Sampling Day (OSD). They were united by the goal of identifying the microbial communities in all the samples–no small task given that one drop of seawater contains about 20 million microbes.

This movie features MBL Associate Scientist Linda Amaral-Zettler, who took a lead role in OSD as a scientific adviser to the project’s European sponsor, MicroB3, and who actively sampled and helped coordinate sampling in the Azorean Islands. Building a knowledge base of marine microbes is critical for understanding the impact of global challenges to ocean health, such as a warming climate.

“Sampling is expensive,” Amaral-Zettler says. “The more we can leverage individual regional efforts and resources, the better we will be in protecting the ocean.”

As soon as they were collected, the samples were frozen and shipped to Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. The next step is to identify “who” are in the samples through DNA extraction and analysis.

OSD will take place again in 2015 and hopefully into the future, Amaral Zettler says, which would provide a long-term perspective on how marine microbial diversity changes over time. “We need to understand how things are changing in order to protect them.”

Take a look at the eye-popping, deep-sea exploration footage in this video about the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI). Julie Huber, associate director of the MBL’s Bay Paul Center, is also associate director of C-DEBI, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center at the University of Southern California.

The researchers involved with this collaborative national center, Huber says, are asking the “big questions” about life in the deep ocean and below the seafloor. “We are at the exponential exploratory phase,” says Huber, who is on the pioneering edge of discovering subterranean microbial life.

This video was produced by Mira Zimet at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

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Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734,

WOODS HOLE, Mass.–For decades, doctors have developed methods to diagnose how different types of cells and systems in the body are functioning. Now a team of scientists has adapted an emerging biomedical technique to study the vast body of the ocean.

The breadth and mysteries of Julie Huber’s research—from exploring the dark, peaceful ocean depths to mining enormous data sets about the microbes that live there—are captured in this video profile by Geoff Wyman of Falmouth. Huber describes her background growing up in the Midwest, and how her love for the ocean eventually led to a fascination with marine microbes and how they power the planet’s elemental cycles. Today, Huber dives to deep-sea environments around the world to collect samples of fluids from underwater volcanoes, which she analyzes back at the MBL to discover the microbial communities that can thrive under such extreme environmental conditions.

Huber is associate director of the MBL’s Josephine Bay Paul Center, and is also associate director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations at the University of Southern California.

Many thanks to Geoff Wyman for producing this video, the first in a series of profiles of MBL scientists.

Congratulations to MBL’s Linda Amaral Zettler and colleagues, whose paper introducing the “Plastisphere” has been named “First Runner Up: Best Environmental Science Papers of 2013″ by the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The journal’s editors selected the winners from more than 1,730 papers it published last year on a range of topics in environmental science, technology, and policy.

Plastic debris from the ocean. Credit: Erik Zettler

Plastic debris from the ocean. Credit: Erik Zettler

The Plastisphere, a novel ecological habitat, is the flotilla of microbial communities attached to bits of plastic debris in the ocean. Amaral Zettler collaborated with Erik Zettler of Sea Education Association and Tracy Mincer of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to collect the samples (most of which were millimeter-sized pieces of plastic)  in the North Atlantic Ocean and analyze their microbial passengers. The Plastisphere, they say, raises a host of questions. How does it change environmental conditions for marine microbes and their competion for survival? How does it change the ocean ecosystem and affect larger organisms? Does it change where microbes, including pathogens, are transported in the ocean? Because plastics are so long-lived, the scientists say, they may play a significant role in distributing bacteria in the ocean.

Zettler ER, Mincer TJ, and Amaral-Zettler LA (2013) Life in the ‘Plastisphere’: Microbial communities on marine plastic debris. Env. Sci. & Tech. DOI: 10.1021/es401288x

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