The research led by Mary Ann Moran at the University of Georgia showed for the first time that the roles played by bacteria in coastal waters aren't nearly as specific as some scientists suspected. Moran said she discovered such bacteria are generalists in how they get their nourishment and might have the option of doing many different things, depending on what works best at the time.
Scientists said the findings mark the first clear demonstrations at the experimental level that coastal ocean bacteria can alter their functions, depending on local food supply.
"If you asked me earlier how different species of coastal bacteria use their available food supplies, I would have said each species is optimized for very specialized uses," said Moran. "But our new research says most are carrying out multiple processes when it comes to carbon cycling."
The study that included postdoctoral associate Xiaozhen Mou, bioinformaticist Shulei Sun and Professor Emeritus Robert Hodson, as well as Robert Edwards of San Diego State University, appears in the journal Nature.