COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH: LINKING PHYSIOLOGICAL AND MOLECULAR ASPECTS OF DIATOM SILICIFICATION IN FIELD POPULATIONS

Project Details

Description

Diatoms, unicellular, eukaryotic photoautotrophs, are among the most ecologically successful and functionally diverse organisms in the ocean. In addition to contributing one-fifth of total global primary productivity, diatoms are also the largest group of silicifying organisms in the ocean. Thus, diatoms form a critical link between the carbon and silicon (Si) cycles. The goal of this project is to understand the molecular regulation of silicification processes in natural diatom populations to better understand the processes controlling diatom productivity in the sea. Through culture studies and two research cruises, this research will couple classical measurements of silicon uptake and silica production with molecular and biochemical analyses of Silicification-Related Gene (SiRG) and protein expression. The proposed cruise track off the West Coast of the US will target gradients in Si and iron (Fe) concentrations with the following goals: 1) Characterize the expression pattern of SiRGs, 2) Correlate SiRG expression patterns to Si concentrations, silicon uptake kinetics, and silica production rates, 3) Develop a method to normalize uptake kinetics and silica production to SiRG expression levels as a more accurate measure of diatom activity and growth, 4) Characterize the diel periodicity of silica production and SiRG expression.Intellectual Merit: It is estimated that diatoms process 240 Teramoles of biogenic silica each year and that each molecule of silicon is cycled through a diatom 39 times before being exported to the deep ocean. Decades of oceanographic and field research have provided detailed insight into the dynamics of silicon uptake and silica production in natural populations, but a molecular understanding of the factors that influence silicification processes is required for further understanding the regulation of silicon and carbon fluxes in the ocean. Characterizing the genetic potential for silicification will provide new information on the factors that regulate the distribution of diatoms and influence in situ rates of silicon uptake and silica production. This research is expected to provide significant information about the molecular regulation of silicification in natural populations and the physiological basis of Si limitation in the sea.Broader Impacts: This project blends concepts in physiology, molecular biology, and biochemistry with marine ecology and oceanography, providing an opportunity for researchers with diverse interests to interact. This project provides an opportunity for a female researcher to get first-time PI experience and, at the same time, provides excellent hands-on, cross-disciplinary training for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, underserved and underrepresented undergraduate students will be involved in both lab and field-based research. Research activities will also interface with established outreach programs at both Rutgers and UC Santa Barbara to develop novel methods for translating scientific themes and data sets generated from field work into innovative teaching materials aimed at K-12 educators, K-12 students, and undergraduates. Senior personnel will also work to develop educational units to be distributed online and in professional development workshops.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/16

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))

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