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Looking for nitrogen in the ocean

NSF Award:

Collaborative Research: Cyanate availability and utilization by marine microbial assemblages  (Old Dominion University Research Foundation)

Collaborative Research: Cyanate availability and utilization by marine microbial assemblages  (Marine Biological Laboratory)

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An assay developed by Old Dominion University (ODU) researchers will enable aquatic scientists to measure concentrations of cyanate, a potentially important component in the oceanic nitrogen cycle. Working collaboratively with researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., the ODU researchers used the assay to detect cyanate concentrations in estuarine and coastal waters.

Previously, it was impossible to evaluate the importance of cyanate in aquatic environments because detection methods lacked the sensitivity to identify the compound in chemically dilute environments like the ocean. Cyanate is a simple form of organic nitrogen available to phytoplankton with the appropriate enzyme to metabolize it.

The ODU and MBL team measured nutrient-like concentrations of cyanate in seawater relative to the abundance of organisms expressing genes that take up and metabolize it. These are the first steps toward understanding the role cyanate plays in global nitrogen cycling and the productivity of marine food webs.

Nitrogen is an important nutrient in the world's oceans because, among other things, it is a major component of living organisms. The element often limits the growth of marine phytoplankton, the foundation of oceanic food webs.

Image

  • graduate student collects seawater samples onboard a research vessel
A graduate student collects seawater samples onboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer.
Brittany Widner, Old Dominion University

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