Engineered Bacteria Feast on Phytoplankton 2

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Cherry Gao, Vicente I. Fernandez, Lars Behrendt, Roman Stocker

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These images visualize the metabolic interaction between live bacteria and phytoplankton in the ocean. Symbiodinium cells (in orange) are single-cell, photosynthetic organisms that live in the ocean. Marine phytoplankton, such as Symbiodinium, exude metabolites into their surroundings that marine bacteria (in green and cyan) utilize as nutrients. One such Symbiodinium-derived metabolite is called DMSP (dimethylsulfoniopropionate). Phytoplankton such as Symbiodinium produce more than one billion tons of DMSP each year, and DMSP is a precursor of a gas (dimethylsulfide, or DMS) that is implicated in the formation of clouds.

I took these images to directly visualize the metabolic interactions between bacteria and phytoplankton in the ocean at the microscale. By visualizing the gradient of fluorescence in bacteria surrounding the phytoplankton, I can indirectly visualize the gradient of DMSP and other nutrients emanating from Symbiodinium cells.

This image offers a mesmerizing geometrical arrangement of bacteria that is a little bit reminiscent of the Pillars of Creation.