Marine microbial communities drive many of the elemental cycles that sustain all life on Earth. Now, a new study conducted at the University of Chicago Marine Biology Laboratory has found that, in nutrient-poor environments, marine microbes can clump together and in turn bond with other similar organisms, such as ciliated epibionts.
According to a Press release, the cooperative work they carry out allows them to extract up to 10 times more nutrients than doing it alone. This solidary solution is a strategy that microbes have developed to cope with environments with minimal nutrients.
In situations of nutrient shortage, marine microbes need to find a viable way to obtain iron, phosphorus and nitrogen, among other vital elements that allow them to survive. However, in many areas of the ocean these nutrients can be very difficult to obtain.
Cooperation on a microscopic scale
Although it is known that social animals are those that have achieved the greatest brain development, there are also examples of cooperation between the simplest organisms. They may not be able to achieve the richness of interactions that other species do, but microbes and other similar life forms are also capable of creating cooperative strategies to solve your problems.
Coscinodiscus wailesii is a diatom that has chosen to work together: these marine microbes can integrate and in turn attach to small ciliated epibionts, protozoa that bear the scientific name of Pseudovorticella coscinodisci. By acting as a whole, clusters can dramatically improve their efficiency in obtaining nutrients.
The key to the success of this association is the “hair” -shaped appendages that epibionts have on their surface. Because they emit vibrations, they serve to create microcurrents in the marine environment that microbes cannot generate on their own. The movements and oscillations make it possible to extract up to 10 times more nutrients than if the organisms acted in isolation.
Although marine microbes also have other tactics to obtain nutrients in scarcity situations, such as sinking deeper to increase their exposure to higher nutrient concentrations, the results of research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS ) indicate that they do not reach the same effectiveness than when working in conjunction with the ciliated epibionts.
According to specialists, this shows that the unions between different species can substantially increase the flow rates of nutrients. For scientists, this collaborative solution that has evolved on a microscopic scale allows this species of diatom to survive successfully in shallow waters.
In a scenario characterized by the minimum concentration of nutrients, everything indicates that without the associative exit the marine microbes should have adapted to another habitat or even ran the risk of perishing.
The diatoms they are one of the most important single-celled organisms due to their role as photosynthesizers. They play a crucial role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Knowing more about these organisms allows scientists to better understand the interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere, a vital issue in addressing the climate change and its consequences.
Teamwork in the viscous ocean microscale. Eva Kanso, Rubens M. Lopes, J. Rudi Strickler, John O. Dabiri, and John H. Costello. PNAS (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2018193118
Photo: the marine microbe Coscinodiscus wailesii with attached ciliated epibionts (Pseudovorticella coscinodisci). Credit: Kanso et al, PNAS.
Photo Video: rotation of the marine microbe with the ciliated epibionts. Credit: Kanso et al, PNAS.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.