Marine Microbes See a Sea of Gradients

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Science  02 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6107, pp. 628-633
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208929

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Marine bacteria influence Earth’s environmental dynamics in fundamental ways by controlling the biogeochemistry and productivity of the oceans. These large-scale consequences result from the combined effect of countless interactions occurring at the level of the individual cells. At these small scales, the ocean is surprisingly heterogeneous, and microbes experience an environment of pervasive and dynamic chemical and physical gradients. Many species actively exploit this heterogeneity, while others rely on gradient-independent adaptations. This is an exciting time to explore this frontier of oceanography, but understanding microbial behavior and competition in the context of the water column’s microarchitecture calls for new ecological frameworks, such as a microbial optimal foraging theory, to determine the relevant trade-offs and global consequences of microbial life in a sea of gradients.

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