Marine Microbes

Photo: Michael ten Lohuis, JCU.

Marine microbes are tiny organisms that live in marine environments and can only be seen under a microscope. They include cellular life forms: bacteria, fungi, algae and plankton along with the viruses that freeload on the cellular life forms.

"Viruses are the most abundant life form in the oceans...and if stretched end to end, would span farther than the nearest 60 galaxies." Curtis Suttle, University of British Columbia.

There are more than a billion micro-organisms living in each litre of seawater, and it is now known that microbes dominate the abundance, diversity and metabolic activity of the ocean.

They comprise 98 per cent of the biomass of the world's oceans, supply more than half the world's oxygen, are the major processors of the world's greenhouse gases and have the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change.

They are the cause of diseases that are suspected to be spreading due to global warming, yet paradoxically compounds they produce are potential cancer cures and solutions for combating human disease.

AIMS scientists have the ability to comprehensively study these compounds, by extracting them and analysing their structure and their effects on mammalian cells.

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the important environmental roles that microbes play in marine systems - from feeding ecosystems to consuming waste and sequestering carbon. AIMS is investigating several areas where microbial processes are central to issues of immediate concern to the world's coral reefs.

Research focus areas will include studies of the symbiotic and pathogenic relationships between marine microbes and other marine organisms.

Centre for Marine Microbiology and Genetics Research