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Aggregation of marine pico-cyanobacteria

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Marine pico-cyanobacteria of the genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus carry out nearly two thirds of the primary production in oligotrophic oceans. These cyanobacteria are also considered an important constituent of the

Marine pico-cyanobacteria of the genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus carry out nearly two thirds of the primary production in oligotrophic oceans. These cyanobacteria are also considered an important constituent of the biological carbon pump, the photosynthetic fixation of CO2 to dissolved and particulate organic carbon and subsequent export to the ocean’s interior. But single cells of these cyanobacteria are too small to sink, so their carbon export has to be mediated by aggregate formation and/or consumption by zooplankton that produce sinking fecal pellets. In this dissertation, I investigated for the first time the aggregation of these cyanobacteria by studying the marine Synechococcus sp. strain WH8102 as a model organism. I first found in culture experiments that Synechococcus cells aggregated and that such aggregation of cells was related to the production of transparent exopolymeric particles (TEP), known to provide the main matrix of aggregates of eukaryotic phytoplankton. I also found that despite the lowered growth rates, cells in the nitrogen or phosphorus limited cultures had a higher cell-normalized TEP production and formed a greater total volume of aggregates with higher settling velocities compared to cells in the nutrient replete cultures. I further studied the Synechococcus aggregation in roller tanks that allow the simulation of aggregates settling in the water column, and investigated the effects of the clays kaolinite and bentonite that are commonly found in the ocean. In the roller tanks, Synechococcus cells formed aggregates with diameters of up to 1.4 mm and sinking velocities of up to 440 m/d, comparable to those of larger eukaryotic phytoplankton such as diatoms. In addition, the clay minerals increased the number but reduced the size of aggregates, and their ballasting effects increased the sinking velocity and the carbon export potential of the aggregates. Lastly, I investigated the effects of heterotrophic bacteria on the Synechococcus aggregation, and found that heterotrophic bacteria generally resulted in the formation of fewer, but larger and faster sinking aggregates, and eventually led to an enhanced aggregation of cells and particles. My study contributes to the understanding of the role of marine pico-cyanobacteria in the ecology and biogeochemistry of oligotrophic oceans.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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Unearthing the antibacterial activity of a natural clay deposit

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The discovery and development of novel antibacterial agents is essential to address the rising health concern over antibiotic resistant bacteria. This research investigated the antibacterial activity of a natural clay

The discovery and development of novel antibacterial agents is essential to address the rising health concern over antibiotic resistant bacteria. This research investigated the antibacterial activity of a natural clay deposit near Crater Lake, Oregon, that is effective at killing antibiotic resistant human pathogens. The primary rock types in the deposit are andesitic pyroclastic materials, which have been hydrothermally altered into argillic clay zones. High-sulfidation (acidic) alteration produced clay zones with elevated pyrite (18%), illite-smectite (I-S) (70% illite), elemental sulfur, kaolinite and carbonates. Low-sulfidation alteration at neutral pH generated clay zones with lower pyrite concentrations pyrite (4-6%), the mixed-layered I-S clay rectorite (R1, I-S) and quartz.

Antibacterial susceptibility testing reveals that hydrated clays containing pyrite and I-S are effective at killing (100%) of the model pathogens tested (E. coli and S. epidermidis) when pH (< 4.2) and Eh (> 450 mV) promote pyrite oxidation and mineral dissolution, releasing > 1 mM concentrations of Fe2+, Fe3+ and Al3+. However, certain oxidized clay zones containing no pyrite still inhibited bacterial growth. These clays buffered solutions to low pH (< 4.7) and oxidizing Eh (> 400 mV) conditions, releasing lower amounts (< 1 mM) of Fe and Al. The presence of carbonate in the clays eliminated antibacterial activity due to increases in pH, which lower pyrite oxidation and mineral dissolution rates.

The antibacterial mechanism of these natural clays was explored using metal toxicity and genetic assays, along with advanced bioimaging techniques. Antibacterial clays provide a continuous reservoir of Fe2+, Fe3+ and Al3+ that synergistically attack pathogens while generating hydrogen peroxide (H2O¬2). Results show that dissolved Fe2+ and Al3+ are adsorbed to bacterial envelopes, causing protein misfolding and oxidation in the outer membrane. Only Fe2+ is taken up by the cells, generating oxidative stress that damages DNA and proteins. Excess Fe2+ oxidizes inside the cell and precipitates Fe3+-oxides, marking the sites of hydroxyl radical (•OH) generation. Recognition of this novel geochemical antibacterial process should inform designs of new mineral based antibacterial agents and could provide a new economic industry for such clays.

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Date Created
  • 2015