Tiny organisms, big impact

Over two-thirds of the surface of our planet is covered by its oceans, the largest habitat on Earth. Beneath the ocean surface, an interconnected web of life ranges over a million-fold in size, from the great whales to the familiar fish, to tiny insect-like zooplankton, to microscopic plants, to the smallest forms of life on earth, the bacteria and viruses. These microscopic organisms are critically important to life on earth, and are a vital part of the ocean’s food web. We now know viruses play an important role in the life and death of microscopic cells. They can even insert new genetic information into the ocean’s microbes, and with it provide new physical abilities that allow microbes to adapt to changing environments.

And bacteria in the oceans are not villains! They are necessary and good citizens. Many of them play the important role of absorbing carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen on which we depend. Half of the oxygen we breathe is generated by ocean microbes, and the oceans truly are the lungs of our planet. Research at the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education focuses on understanding how ocean microbes contribute to life on planet Earth, so that we can better protect its living resources.