Marine Microbes

Sea snot and succession

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Science  31 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6443, pp. 847-848
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6443.847-c

Marine detritus from particles of algae and dead animals is decomposed by successions of bacteria.


Carbon in the open ocean is recycled by microorganisms that assemble on small polysaccharide particles of algae and decayed animals, most simply described as marine “snot.” These communities are dense and enzymatically highly active. Enke et al. grew organisms for a week or so on prepared substrates of alginate, chitin, agarose, and carrageenan and elucidated the dynamics of particle degradation. From genome sequencing of the communities through time, it was evident that the primary degraders were specific to each substrate and possessed specialized hydrolytic enzymes. Next to grow were apparent “free riders” that could import some oligosaccharides into their cells. Last in the succession were generalist organisms that occurred across the range of substrates. The generalists cannot harvest oligosaccharides at all and secondarily rely on metabolic intermediates produced by the specialists.

Curr. Biol. 29, 1528 (2019).

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