UH Oceanography Professor Discovers New Group of Microorganisms

University of Hawaiʻi
Posted: Jan 29, 2001

HONOLULU-- Professor of Oceanography, David M. Karl of the Universityof Hawai'i at Manoa, in cooperation with two other researchers, Markus B.Karner and Edward F. DeLong, will be published in the weekly scientificjournal Nature.

The team's research paper entitled "Archaeal Dominance in the MesopelagicZone of the Pacific Ocean," reports the dominance of planktonic archaeain the Northern Pacific Ocean Region. This research is part of the Hawai'iOcean Time-series (HOT), an ongoing, 12-year study of the North PacificOcean sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Archaea, one of three separate domains of life on our planet left undiscovereduntil 1970, have previously been found only in extreme environments suchas high temperature volcanic vents on the ocean floor, continental hot springsand fumeroles, and highly salty and acidic waters. The Archaea found bythe research group in the open sea share characteristics of two groups thoughtto be forced into these extreme areas.

According to Karl, the archaeal cell concentration in the study makesup a large percentage of the biomass of the open ocean, which is earth'slargest biome. "These organisms could make up almost 50% of life inthe sea. We didn't expect to find them in the open ocean," says Karl.This report is the first to note the "numerical abundance" ofthese organisms.

In the past, Archaea were known as archaebacteria, but it has since beenfound that they are fundamentally distinct from true bacteria. Very littleis known about these particular life forms. According to Karl, "Weonly discovered them by their unusual genetic and molecular structures."

Marine scientists have yet to understand how Archaea takes in nutrients,multiplies, or the ecological role it plays in their particular environments.They could later be found in soil, be discovered as factors in causing diseaseand infection, or any number of other functions.

The discovery of the numerical abundance of an entirely new group ofmicroorganisms "points out the basic ignorance we have of the earthwe live on," says Karl. The research also reveals the need for a re-classificationof the characteristics of the Archaea kingdom.

Dr. David Karl is a veteran of over 40 major oceanographic cruises inareas of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Black Sea, theAmazon River and Antarctica. He serves on several editorial boards for scientificpublications in his field and has received honors and awards for his researchin previous years. In 1999, he was elected to Fellowship in the AmericanGeophysical Union for his research on marine ecosystems.

Nature was originally published in 1869 and has since added 11sister journals and 3 review journals. All of these publications are devotedto promoting significant discoveries in science.