--FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—
August 4, 2010
Contact: Tatiana Brailovskaya, Director of Communications, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences 207.633.9633 firstname.lastname@example.org
A Profusion of Life: Bigelow Laboratory’s August 17 Café Scientifique Focuses on the Ocean’s Microbial Diversity
WEST BOOTHBAY HARBOR, ME – Bigelow Laboratory’s newest Senior Research Scientist Dr. Peter Countway will discuss current scientific thinking about “why there are so many microbial species in the world’s oceans” at the Laboratory’s August 17 Café Scientifique gathering at 6:00 p.m. in the Opera House, 86 Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor.
“My research projects encompass the fields of marine microbial diversity, ecology, and physiology using molecular and genomic techniques,” says Countway. “I’m currently focusing on studying the diversity and activity of protists, single-celled eukaryotes (organisms whose cells contain a distinct, membrane-bound nucleus) living in the sea floor and the water column surrounding deep?sea hydrothermal vents in the Gulf of California and the East Pacific Rise.”
Countway is also analyzing the results from a large-scale DNA sequencing project to compare the breadth and depth of protistan diversity sampled from a variety of ecosystems distributed throughout the world’s oceans.
“When we began sequencing environmental DNA samples ten years ago, we had no idea that our estimates of protistan diversity in a liter of seawater would be so high – often rivaling estimates of bacterial diversity. DNA sequencing has revealed that there is a huge amount of cryptic protistan diversity in the oceans that we were missing in more traditional oceanographic studies. Some of this diversity was hidden in previously unnoticed size classes, and most it was exceedingly rare in any particular water sample, giving rise to the term ‘rare biosphere.’
“DNA sequencing is finally allowing us to begin asking questions about how quickly the diversity of a microbial assemblage can change in response to environmental forcing. This is leading to hypotheses about why there are so many microbial many species in the oceans and what role the rare biosphere may have in maintaining healthy ecosystem functions.”
Prior to joining Bigelow Laboratory on July 1 of this year, Countway was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Southern California, where he was part of a research team that was testing hypotheses related to biological controls on ecosystem functions. His extensive research experience includes five years as an oceanographic research technician at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science; participation in oceanographic cruises, including expeditions to the Sargasso Sea, the Gulf Stream, the Arabian Sea, and the Ross Sea near Antarctica; and four deep-sea dives in the research submersible Alvin. He has a B.A. in Zoology from the University of New Hampshire, an M.S. in Marine Science from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Southern California.
The Laboratory’s Café Scientifique gatherings are informal discussions about scientific issues, current research, and the latest news from the field. The Café Scientifique movement began in 1998 in England, and has spread quickly throughout Europe and the United States. There are now more than 150 science cafés organized over 42 countries. The Laboratory’s cafés are free, open to the public, and a cash bar is available. The 2010 Summer Café Scientifique gatherings are held at 6 p.m. every Tuesday through August 24 at the Opera House.
An internationally known center for global ocean research, Bigelow Laboratory conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography, examining biological productivity in the world’s oceans at the molecular level, to the large-scale biogeochemical processes that drive interactions between ocean ecosystems and global environmental conditions. These programs have taken Bigelow scientists around the world to every ocean and the polar seas. ###
Photo: Dr. Peter Countway aboard the R/V Icebreaker Palmer in the Ross Sea near Antarctica.