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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • James Birch
  • (831) 775-1803
  • Christopher A Scholin
Award Date:08/20/2013
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 107,416
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 107,416
  • FY 2013=$107,416
Start Date:01/01/2014
End Date:12/31/2016
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Dimensions: Collaborative Research: Bacterial Taxa that Control Sulfur Flux from the Ocean to the Atmosphere
Federal Award ID Number:1342734
DUNS ID:178341772
Program:Dimensions of Biodiversity

Awardee Location

Street:7700 SANDHOLDT RD
County:Moss Landing
Awardee Cong. District:20

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Street:7700 Sanholdt Road
City:Moss Landing
County:Moss Landing
Cong. District:20

Abstract at Time of Award

This project is based on the globally important function of bacterial transformation of the ubiquitous organic sulfur compound dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) in ocean surface waters. Recent genetic discoveries have identified key genes in the two major DMSP degradation pathways, and the stage is now set to identify the factors that regulate gene expression to favor one or the other pathway during DMSP processing. The taxonomy of the bacteria mediating DMSP cycling has been deduced from genomic and metagenomic sequencing surveys to include four major groups in the ocean. Understanding how the regulation of DMSP degradation differs among these groups and maps to the relationships between these groups is important information for understanding the marine sulfur cycle and predicting its function in a changing ocean. The project will incorporate the use of model organism studies, microcosm experiments (at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, AL), and time-series field studies with an autonomous sample collection instrument (at Monterey Bay, CA). This project will ascertain how the major taxa of bacterial DMSP degraders in seawater regulate DMSP transformations, and address the implications of bacterial functional, genetic, and taxonomic diversity for global sulfur cycling.. The project will train graduate students and a post-doctoral scholar in microbial biodiversity and provide research opportunities and mentoring for undergraduate students. Students will obtain interdisciplinary training in microbial ecology, sulfur chemistry/biogeochemistry, and environmental bioinformatics, and will participate in research to improve our understanding of how marine bacterioplankton regulate the global fate of sulfur. An outreach program will enhance understanding of the role and diversity of marine microorganisms in global elemental cycles among promising high school students. Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students at a racially diverse Athens, GA, high school will participate in marine microbial research that covers key learning goals in the new AP Biology curriculum. Students will conduct classroom laboratory exercises with bacterial strains isolated from coastal Georgia seawater to learn ecological, microbiological, molecular biological, and bioinformatic concepts. During an end-of-the-year field trip to Sapelo Island, students will isolate new strains that become the study organisms for the next class of AP Biology students. Two high school students will be selected for summer research internships in the laboratories of the principal investigators. The project also supports education and outreach efforts at public aquaria (DISL Estuarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium) and summer graduate courses.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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Vanessa A. Varaljay, Julie Robidart, Christina M. Preston, Scott M. Gifford, Bryndan P. Durham, Andrew S. Burns, John P. Ryan, Roman Marin III, Ronald P. Kiene, Jonathan P. Zehr, Christopher A. Scholin, and Mary Ann Moran "Single-Taxon Field Measurements of Bacterial Gene Regulation Controlling DMSP Fate" ISME Journal, v.9, 2015, p.1677.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

In the world's oceans, the chemical dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is produced by marine phytoplankton and released into the environment.  A large portion of the DMSP is assimilated and/or degraded by marine bacteria.  These bacteria can perform one of two globally-significant transformations when they come in contact with DMSP.  One is converting it to a volatile sulfur gas that escapes into the atmosphere where it can influence the earth's climate; the other transformation converts DMSP into sulfur-containing amino acids that end up being consumed in the marine microbial food web.  This project set out to understand the balance between these two pathways, because each takes DMSP-sulfur to a distinctly different biogeochemical fate, and future climate changes may influence the balance between these functions.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has developed a robotic sampling instrument, the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) that can be deployed in the ocean and remain for 30-45 days, collecting filter samples of seawater on a daily basis.  Immediately after sampling, these filters are preserved, stopping microbial gene expression at the moment of collection.  When the ESP is recovered, these filters are then available for detailed genetic analysis to see what genes have been expressed (i.e., 'turned-on') or not.  These results can be correlated to properties measured in the water (e.g., temperature, salinity, etc.) to help us understand what environmental features might influence which pathway bacteria choose when processing DMSP.

The ESP was deployed in Monterey Bay, CA for ~30 days in the fall of 2014 and fall of 2016, collecting 132 samples each time.  Once back on shore, these samples (filters), were processed to release nucleic acids that would indicate who was collected and which genes they were expressing.  In addition to the samples collected by the ESP, periodic small-boat trips were taken to the ESP mooring for collection of hand samples both to generate more material for analysis, and 'ground-truth' the ESP findings.  The genetic analysis is ongoing, performed by our collaborators (Mary Ann Moran at U. Georgia, and Ron Keine, U. South Alabama), with results expected by the end of 2017.

The biogeochemical data will be deposited at BCO-DMO on this website:

The sequence data will be deposited in NCBI’s SRA ( and iMicrobe ( data repositories.

Last Modified: 03/15/2017
Modified by: James Birch

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