Nav: Home

Scientists discover key gene for producing marine molecule with huge environmental impacts

February 26, 2018

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have discovered a key gene for the synthesis of one of the world's most abundant sulfur molecules.

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is an important nutrient in marine environments with more than one billion tonnes produced annually by marine phytoplankton (microscopic plant-like cells), seaweed and bacteria.

When marine microorganisms break down DMSP, they release a climate-cooling gas called dimethylsulfide (DMS), which also gives the seaside its characteristic smell.

The discovery of a gene (named DSYB) responsible for synthesising DMSP, published today in Nature Microbiology, represents a huge step forward in the field of sulfur cycling in marine environments. It could also allow scientists to better predict the impact of climate change on DMSP production.

The team discovered that this gene, and therefore DMSP synthesis itself, likely originated in marine bacteria and was later passed onto phytoplankton, which have evolved to be marine factories for this molecule.

Lead researcher Dr Jonathan Todd, from UEA's School of Biological Sciences, said: "DMS is a very important gas. Across the world's oceans, seas and coasts, tens of millions of tonnes of it are released by microbes that live near plankton and marine plants, including seaweeds and some salt-marsh grasses.

"DMS is thought to affect climate by increasing cloud droplets that in turn reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ocean's surface. These same clouds are vital in the movement of large amounts of sulfur from the oceans to land, making the production of DMSP and DMS a critical step in the global sulfur cycle.

"Marine phytoplankton produce the majority of global DMSP. Until now, we didn't know any of the phytoplankton genes responsible for the synthesis of this highly abundant marine nutrient."

The discovery of genes involved in the production of DMSP in phytoplankton, as well as bacteria, will allow scientists to better evaluate which organisms make DMSP in the marine environment and predict how the production of this influential molecule might be affected by future environmental changes, such as the warming of the oceans due to climate change.

Dr Todd said: "The identification of the DMSP synthesis genes in marine bacteria and phytoplankton allows us to evaluate for the first time which organisms produce DMSP in the environment. This discovery represents a huge step forward in the field of sulfur cycling in marine environments."

Dr Andrew Curson, also from UEA's School of Biological Sciences and one of the lead researchers on the paper, said: "The DSYB gene is found in all the major phytoplankton groups that produce this environmentally important molecule. Also, because it is involved in such a critical step in the synthesis pathway, the regulation of the DSYB gene by environmental conditions is of great significance in determining how much DMSP is ultimately produced."

PhD student Beth Williams, who was also a major contributor to the research, added: "The discovery of the evolutionary link between bacterial and phytoplankton DSYB was both surprising and interesting, as it indicated that the ability to synthesise DMSP through this pathway originated in bacteria. This suggests that bacteria may play an even more important role in global DMSP synthesis, both historically and in the present day."
-end-
The research was carried out as part of a collaboration between the University of East Anglia, Queen's University Belfast, University of Barcelona, University of Washington, University of Technology, Sydney and University of Western Australia. It was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), EnvEast and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

'DSYB catalyses the key step of dimethylsulfoniopropionate biosynthesis in many phytoplankton' is published in the scientific journal Nature Microbiology on Monday, February 26, 2018.

University of East Anglia

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".