PUPCYCLE Day 3 – The Phytoplankton Players

Sunday, May 26, 2019 – Incubation Site #1

PUPCYCLE 2019 – The Phytoplankton Players

The Roaring 40s of the Southern Hemisphere appeared to have moved northward this weekend, tossing the R/V Oceanus over 10+feet waves as the location for Incubation Site #1 held us captive near a Low Pressure cell moving toward the Pacific Northwest. The researchers are collecting phytoplankton at about 90 meters depth from a wide shelf region for the first Incubation Site. They have been practicing protocols and collecting data profiles to be sure the site is actually experiencing a Relaxation phase.

Figure 7 – One of the objectives for PUPCYCLE 2019 is to observe the gene expression and growth rate in these groups of phytoplankton as they respond to upwelling events. [Image credit: http://oceandatacenter.ucsc.edu/PhytoGallery/dinos%20vs%20diatoms.html; https://slideplayer.com/slide/8282411/; https://moritz.botany.ut.ee/~olli/aldoc/07Chloro0.pdf]
The main phytoplankton players in their research are shown in Figure 7 and include Diatoms, Dinoflagellates, Haptophytes (commonly referred to as Coccolithophores), and Chlorophytes (commonly known as green algae). Each of these is a single-celled organism classified as autotrophic because of their ability to photosynthesize and produce their own food. Some varieties of Dinoflagellates are also heterotrophic (engulf other prey) and are also famous for causing Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) such as Red Tide, which can devastate shellfisheries. Diatoms are eukaryotes (meaning they have a nucleus) that survive in fresh and salt water. They are key primary producers for the aquatic food web and live in “glass” shells derived from the silicates they absorb from the water. 100,000 species of diatoms are currently known. They are found in 2 shapes (pennate and centric) and can form long chains during upwelling events. Haptophytes make their shells, or hubcap-shaped plates, from the calcium carbonates absorbed from the water. There are currently 300 species of Haptophytes identified, Emiliania huxleyi being the first to have its genome published. Haptophytes tend to flourish in environments where other phytoplankton struggle to survive. Chlorophytes (green algae) are one of the most diverse groups, existing as single-cellular or multi-cellular and are often found in colonies. Spirogyra (a freshwater variety) and Ulva (sea lettuce) are two of the most commonly known. Together, with other forms of phytoplankton, these microscopic marvels reduce the levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing key nutrients for larger zooplankton (including fish larvae), krill, larger fish, and even whales.

Figure 8 – One teaspoon of seawater can contain millions of microscopic organisms, ranging from copepods and diatoms to bacterium and viruses. [Image credit: https://slideplayer.com/slide/7066146/]
The phytoplankton being collected during PUPCYCLE 2019 range in size from 2.0 microns to 200 microns. The scale shown in Figure 8 provides a comparative size distribution of the microbes being investigated to other marine organisms we are more familiar with, such as jellies, seaweed, and krill. The researchers will use filtration systems and mass spectrometry to collect and identify the microscopic species of interest. Several scientists and their research will be featured during PUPCYCLE 2019, affording a better understanding of their research and how their findings apply to the world in which we live.

Today’s Certificate Challenge: Marine microbes, like diatoms and green algae, provide much needed oxygen essential to life on Earth. Some microbes can become toxic to the environment resulting in large blooms referred to as _____.