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About the Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-CoMP)

Mission Statement

One-quarter of the carbon derived from photosynthesis on Earth cycles rapidly through a pool of seawater metabolites generated by the activities of microbes. These molecules help govern the global carbon cycle, provide life-supporting nutrients, and support the function of marine food webs that ensure a vital and healthy ocean.

The Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-CoMP) leverages recent advances in analytical and data sciences, incorporates new ocean sampling technologies and an open-science framework, and engages educators and policy-makers to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of the chemicals and microbial processes that underpin ocean ecosystems and other microbiomes that affect our daily life.

The ocean carbon cycle shows the flux of carbon through the surface and deep ocean. Air-sea CO2 exchange serves as the input for CO2 into the surface ocean. In the surface ocean, carbon exists in pools of CO2 and labile Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC). Of the estimated 50 petagrams of carbon per year in the CO2 pool, 23 petagrams of carbon per year enter the labile DOC pool while 25 petagrams of carbon per year meet other fates. 2 petagrams of carbon per year within the labile DOC pool are converted into non-labile forms and sink to the deep sea. For more information see Moran et al. (2022). Figure created by WHOI Creative Studio.

Center Research Objectives

C-CoMP supports 14 senior personnel, working in interdisciplinary teams (involving undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, technicians, and support staff) with novel approaches and open science practices to resolve major outstanding knowledge gaps at the heart of the global carbon cycle:

          (1) the chemical currencies of surface ocean carbon flux

          (2) the chemical-microbe network in the surface ocean

          (3) network sensitivity and feedbacks on climate.

These research focus areas are resistant to study and not yet integrated into global earth systems models, but central components of Earth’s carbon cycle. Given their complexity and urgency, these focus areas can only be addressed through a sustained network of scientists, students, and educators who work together to achieve research goals while expanding ocean science literacy efforts and broadening the workforce able to tackle multi-disciplinary problems. 

Accordingly, C-CoMP is structured on three scaffolds that underpin research and link to education and outreach efforts. At the center are the Science Themes, representing critical knowledge gaps in metabolite-driven carbon cycling that govern the fate of a quarter of Earth’s primary production. The Critical Challenges scaffold represents current technological and conceptual roadblocks to knowledge building. The Enabling Tools and Technologies scaffold represents the emerging technologies to be created or repurposed to resolve scientific roadblocks.

C-CoMP's three scaffolds; a detailed description is provided in the figure caption.
A figure representing C-CoMP’s three scaffolds. Science and education themes (center circle) of chemical currencies, feedbacks to climate, and chemical-microbe networks represent research and education efforts at the heart of the ocean carbon cycle. Addressing these themes has been hindered by long-recognized science and technology critical challenges (blue square), including chemistry in seawater, gene annotation, flux measurements, and data compatibility. These critical challenges are now solvable with enabling tools and technologies (outer green circle) in an interdisciplinary setting. Enabling tools and technologies include new hardware (AUV sampler, HRMAS NMR, and instrumentation advances), advances in molecular biology approaches (mutant arrays, proteomics, and TnSeq libraries), new software (integrated analysis and visualization tools and data merging tools), and existing data from chemical and biological data streams.

Broadening participation


Broadening participation in the ocean sciences to enhance racial, sexual, and gender diversity is central to C-CoMP research and education goals.

We are doing this by:

             (1) expanding ocean literacy in K-12 populations and in the general public

             (2) supporting undergraduate retention and completion

             (3) improving the transition to graduate school with our Bridge-to-PhD (B2P) program.

The first priority is addressed with C-CoMP undergraduate research programs that integrate academic, social, and professional development and provide opportunities to explore research as a career regardless of social identities. The second priority is addressed with our Bridge-to-PhD program (B2P) that supports students at a transition typified by large losses in diversity in STEM training. Research-focused employment in a C-CoMP laboratory will provide B2P Fellows with near-peer mentoring, role models, technical experience, and an established scientist mentor for graduate student applications and beyond. Further, the cohort nurtured in B2P programs improves long-term URM retention and advancement in STEM careers. Authentic research experiences for B2P participants that address problems of societal relevance (e.g., Earth’s carbon cycle and climate system) also increase URM engagement and retention.

Five researchers are surrounding a niskin ctd rosette after samples have been collected on a research vessel. Three people are collected seawater directly from the niskin bottles while two people are looking at a datasheet.
Sampling occurs day and night and here two students help the marine technician recover the rosette during a 2013 cruise to the South Atlantic. Image credit: Elizabeth Kujawinski, WHOI.