Did you know that marine phytoplankton (photosynthetic microorganisms) account for half of the photosynthesis on Earth? Or that carbon-based molecules, called metabolites, are released by phytoplankton and quickly exchanged and used by other phytoplankton and marine microorganisms (like bacteria)? How about that these microbial exchanges are responsible for a quarter (~25 Gigatons) of the carbon that is exchanged between Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, land, and living things each year? That’s right! These tiny cells, ranging from tens to hundreds of micrometers (µm, one millionth of a meter) in diameter, fix carbon from inorganic carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic metabolites and convert it back into inorganic forms through their metabolisms. These chemical conversions occur within hours to days! The activities of these microorganisms, set in motion by metabolite exchange, are an important and underexplored driver of carbon cycling in the ocean.
The Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-CoMP) is a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center that was formed to answer important questions about microbial cycling of carbon in the surface ocean. Our research focuses on 1) identifying and measuring metabolites that play critical roles in the movement of carbon and other elements through the surface ocean, 2) exploring the rules of the chemical-microbial network in the surface ocean, and 3) determining the sensitivity of the microbial-metabolite network to changes and subsequent climate feedbacks.
Our Center unites experts in ocean science, education, and diversity to weave together a tapestry of people who can investigate these research themes. Education, diversity, and knowledge transfer initiatives are embedded within the C-CoMP framework to strengthen our research, broaden participation of underrepresented groups in ocean science, and bolster our connection with society. Additionally, C-CoMP operates within an open science framework to facilitate the accessibility and discoverability of metadata and data generated by the Center.
You can stay up-to-date with C-CoMP research, education, and knowledge transfer news by reading this blog! We are excited for you to join us in our mission to promote a mechanistic understanding of the chemical currencies in marine microbial ecosystems in the context of a changing planet and through increased participation in ocean sciences.