By Matthew Corcoran
A teaspoon of seawater is home to a thousand algae cells and a million bacteria. These tiny critters are fundamental to life on Earth. Ocean algae produce much of the oxygen in the atmosphere and form the base of the marine food chain, while bacteria release carbon dioxide that is converted into organic molecules by algae — and plants — during the process of photosynthesis.
"If you take these organisms out, basically life on Earth ends," said Shady Amin, assistant professor of Chemistry at NYU Abu Dhabi.
Amin has long been fascinated by the hidden interactions that occur between the ocean's microorganisms. "There is a lot of mutual and competitive interactions between species and our goal is to understand how this all works to balance the ecosystem," he said.
In a paper published in Nature, Amin and his colleagues took a step forward in understanding how these interactions happen in the ocean, uncovering a significant chemical exchange between particular kinds of algae — called diatoms — and bacteria that live with them.
Scientists have suspected that bacteria influence the growth of ocean algae and Amin and his colleagues wanted to know if and how these interactions happen. To find an answer, they used a number of different techniques that cross disciplines, including chemistry, genomics, and biology.