Over the next 100 years or so we conducted an intensive investigation
of microorganisms so by the middle of the 20th century we thought
we had a complete and fundamental understanding of microbes in the
ocean. Then, in the mid 1980s, much to our amazement, we had what
can only be called "microbiological revolution." First,
we discovered the second-most and the first-most abundant groups
of microorganisms in the ocean, that is, Synechococcus
and Prochlorococcus, respectively.
The latter group is affectionately also known as Pennychisholmcoccus,
because it was discovered by Dr. Penny Chisholm, our workshop co-convenor!
Prior to these discoveries we thought we had a balanced carbon cycle
and a comprehensive inventory of marine life -- how wrong we were.
It put us in awe because we had previously thought we understood
marine life but, in retrospect, how could we have with such a large
So this was a major, unexpected discovery, and at that point we
thought, well, now we must know just about everything there is to
know about life in the sea. Then, just a few years later in 1992,
we discovered planktonic Archaea - the third domain of life, which
we never thought would be present in the ocean. We now recognize
them as a dominant group of marine microbes in fact, below about
1500 m, the most dominant group. But we still don't know what they're
doing in an ecological sense. We assume, but are not certain, that
they are heterotrophic, competing with the bacteria.
Then, in 1996, through genetic techniques, we were able to get
the first genome sequence of a marine microorganism, and we found
out, again much to our amazement, that nearly 50% of the microbial
genome was used to synthesize proteins that we didn't recognize.
This genetic information appeared to be used for regulation and
control of cellular activities which would be vital for successful
ecological function and to respond to global environmental variability.
In retrospect, it all makes sense yet we had not predicted this
So, again, we uncovered a fairly large information void about the
ocean around us. Then, in 2000, we discovered a very interesting
light-driven proton pump in a very widely distributed marine microorganism,
uncovering a potentially new pathway of carbon and energy flow in