Macquarie University

Event Date: 
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 18:00 - 18:15
Institution: 
Macquarie University
Title: 

Nullarbor Cave Slime: Looking at Life in the Dark

Abstract: 

 
Beneath Australia’s large, dry Nullarbor desert lies an extensive underwater cave system, where microbial communities known as ‘slime curtains’ exist in complete darkness. In the absence of photosynthesis and other nutrient inputs from above, these microbial cave communities may derive their energy from the oxidation of inorganic compounds, such as ammonia, sulfate, nitrate and nitrite, which are relatively abundant in cave waters. We have carried out metagenomic sequencing to explore the diversity and metabolic potential of Nullarbor ‘cave slime’ from Weebubbie cave. Of particular interest was the finding that the dominant organism in this community was an archaea related to Nitrosopumilus maritimus. N. maritimus derives energy by oxidising ammonia to nitrite via the enzyme ammonia monooxygenase and is capable of growing at the very low concentrations of ammonia found in the open ocean. Putative ammonia monooxygenase encoding genes were recovered from this environment using metagenomic sequencing and PCR.  Other genes involved in biological nitrogen cycling, including archaeal nitrite oxidoreductase were also observed in the metagenome. 16S ribosomal RNA surveys conducted to compare multiple bacterial communities from two cave systems, Warbla and Weebubbie, indicate that communities from different caves are distinct and harbor a wide range of microorganisms. We are presently carrying out Scanning Electron Microscopy and Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization to gain further insight into the structure of this unusual microbial slime community. 

Sydney may have failed to deliver some sunshine on the last day of a slightly extended summer, but this didn’t dampen the spirits of Sydney’s microbiology community who turned out in numbers for the Inaugural JAMS Anniversary half-day meeting at the Australian Museum. This special meeting celebrated the first birthday of JAMS, an ASM special interest group that aims to bring together research microbiologists, post-docs and PhD students working in non-clinical research from all institutes.

Special thanks must go to the sponsors of the meeting: POCD scientific; Becton, Dickinson and Company; Macquarie University; The University of Sydney; The University of NSW; The University of Technology, Sydney, and; The University of Western Sydney. Another special thank you must also go to Federico Lauro (UNSW) and other members of the JAMS steering committee for organising the anniversary meeting and for their continued commitment to JAMS. The steering committee would also like to thank the Australian Museum who kindly provided the venue for our regular meetings and who hosted this special event.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 18:15 - 18:30
Institution: 
Macquarie University
Title: 

Making and breaking dimethylsulfide in salt marsh sediments

Abstract: 

DMSP (dimethylsulfoniopropionate) is a key organic compound in the sulfur cycle with ~10^9 tons of this anti-stress compatible solute being made each year by marine phytoplankton, macro-algae and some salt marsh plants. The DMSP that is liberated is catabolised in a series of different microbial reactions that comprise a massive set of biotransformations in the global sulfur cycle. Some of the reaction products, such as DMS (dimethylsulfide), have major environmental consequences in their own right, from climate regulation to animal behaviour. Our work investigates microbial populations that cycle DMSP and DMS in coastal intertidal sediments. Combining geochemical and molecular biological approaches, such as stable isotope probing (SIP) and targeted high throughput sequencing, we are identifying the main microbial players that catabolise DMSP and DMS in oxic and anoxic parts of intertidal sediments alongside the key genes and cognate biochemical pathways that contribute to the turnover of these influential molecules. Early work led to the observation of a vertical microbial population structure within the salt marsh sediment, partially linked to the sulfur cycle biochemistry of this ecosystem. SIP experiments are allowing the characterisation of active microbial processing of DMSP and DMS compounds by separate new bacterial groups, closely associated to salt marsh plants and within the oxic sediment layer. This work is filling in major gaps in our knowledge of the global organic S cycle and the role of microbial populations in major environmental biochemical processes.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - 18:00 - 18:15
Institution: 
Macquarie University
Title: 

Marine Synechococcus: genomics, genetics and ecology of a ubiquitous primary producer

Abstract: 

Although life in the oceans presents some of the most amazing and colourful spectacles, from whales to tropical reefs, the molecular age has led us to a deeper understanding of the diversity and activity of the microorganisms that have a profound influence on our climate. Up until the late 1970s the smallest and most abundant phytoplankton in the oceans had remained undiscovered. These organisms have since been characterised as Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus which are responsible for 2/3 of all marine CO2 fixation. For more than a decade we have been exploring the molecular ecology, physiology, and genomes of these prokaryotic primary producers. Molecular approaches have led to an understanding that genome diversity and plasticity underpin their global distribution and lead us to a pathway from genes, the fundamental units of selection, to a better understanding of the activity of microorganisms that drive geochemical cycles.

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