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:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

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

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.