Millions donated to reveal secrets of microscopic marine life

Justin Seymour (R) takes samples in the field

Justin Seymour (R) takes samples in the field

In summary: 
  • A three million dollar grant has been awarded for UTS research to better understand marine microbes
  • The research is expected to change our understanding of the ocean’s function and how global weather is influenced

UTS-led research using novel technologies to unlock the oceans’ microbial secrets has received a US$3 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, one of the world’s top 20 philanthropic organisations.

It is the largest grant (grant GBMF3801) awarded by the Foundation to date to an Australian institution for research that is expected to change our understanding of the ocean’s function.

Funded over three years and led by UTS marine microbial ecologist Dr Justin Seymour, the research involves collaboration with Associate Professor Roman Stocker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Professor Phillip Hugenholtz and with Dr Gene Tyson from the University of Queensland.

The research will couple cutting-edge technologies such as microfluidics and genomics to assess the ecological interactions of marine microorganisms. Invisible to the eye, microbes are the base of marine food-webs and control the chemical cycles that ultimately control our climate.

Dr Seymour, a Research Fellow with the UTS Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3) said the research brings together an expert team representing engineering, microbiology, genomics and oceanography. The research builds on previous work by Dr Seymour and Associate Professor Stocker using flash drive sized microfluidic chambers to zoom in on the behavioural interactions of marine microorganisms.

Justin Seymour, photo by Joanne SaadJustin Seymour, photo by Joanne Saad

“We were able to consider the ecological interactions of tiny microbes in the same manner that ecologists do for animals,” Dr Seymour said

“The new research funded under the Moore Foundation Marine Microbial Initiative (MMI), will for the first time take this technology out of the laboratory and into the ocean environment. This means we’ll be able to assess the ecological interactions of natural microbial communities in situ, rather than relying on the use of ‘microbial lab-rats’ in the lab.

“We’ll be examining important microbiological processes taking place in the ocean at scales equivalent to an individual drop of seawater. This will give us the first insights into how interactions occurring at the microbial-scale ultimately influence marine chemistry and ecology and the ocean-scale, providing fundamental new insights into the way our oceans operate,” he said.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation believes in bold ideas that create enduring impact in the areas of science, environmental conservation and patient care. Intel co-founder Gordon and his wife Betty established the foundation to create positive change around the world and at home in the San Francisco Bay Area. The foundation looks for opportunities to transform or even create entire fields by investing in early-stage research, emerging fields and top research scientists.

Field-based and ship-board experiments include a planned open-ocean voyage in September 2014 aboard the new CSIRO National Marine Facility, The Investigator.

Well done mate! Keep the good work up...