Making waves

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Science  10 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6329, pp. 1006-1009
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6329.1006

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Penny Chisholm has had a 35-year love affair—with a microbe: Prochlorococcus, a cyanobacterium that is the smallest, most abundant photosynthesizing cell in the ocean. Over the years, her team has shown that it's responsible for 5% of global photosynthesis and depends on an estimated 80,000 genes distributed among hundreds of strains to thrive in nutrient-poor waters ranging from the sea surface to 200 meters down. The microbe's long climb to recognition mirrors Chisholm's own. Her work on the microbe has led her to meeting with a U.S. president, a debate with the Dalai Lama, and co-authorship of science-themed children's books. And along the way, she helped improve the lot of female academic scientists.