Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Home

Foundation Support Enables Microbial and Radionuclide Research

There are more microbes in a bucket of seawater than there are people on Earth. Despite their abundance, humans are only just beginning to fathom the complex role marine microbes play in the ocean ecosystem.

Three projects at the Institution, which received a total of $5.2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative, are employing scientific inquiry and the latest technology and laboratory techniques to shed light on microbes. Their work will look for answers to questions regarding the flow of nutrients through microbial food webs—who eats and secretes what, where and when—and the resulting biogeochemical transformation.

The support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is critical to enabling a fundamental understanding of microbes’ contribution to ocean health and productivity. There is so much more to know about marine microbes’ genetic diversity, how they secure nutrients, what other organisms they interact with, and the biogeochemical changes they bring about in the ocean. And these new projects will contribute toward the ultimate goal of a comprehensive understanding of marine microbial communities.

The funded projects to WHOI include:

  • Investigating Dissolved Organic Matter in the Microbial Loop (WHOI chemist Dan Repeta with Ed DeLong at MIT)
  • Identification and Quantification of New Biomarkers for Key Microbial Species (WHOI chemist Elizabeth Kujawinski)
  • Infochemical Control of Microbial Carbon and Nutrient Cycling in the North Atlantic (WHOI chemists Ben Van Mooy and Tracy Mincer, and WHOI biologist Matt Johnson, with Kay Bidle at Rutgers and Assaf Vardi at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel)

The Moore Foundation also announced that biogeochemist Mak Saito received a prestigious Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator Award. Mak was one of 16 scientists from around the world chosen to receive this highly competitive award, designed to give leading researchers the flexibility to pursue riskier projects and unusual collaborations. The funding will enable the investigators to explore how the trillions upon trillions of microscopic organisms at the base of the ocean’s food webs interact with each other and their environment, providing new insights—and helping to pose entirely new questions—that may help us address pressing issues such as climate change.