Press Release for Wednesday, February 17, 2021
UNF researcher receives NSF grant to study algal mats on the bottom of Lake Huron
Casamatta, University of North Florida biology professor, has been awarded a National
Science Foundation (NSF) grant to continue his research on an interesting set
of Lake Huron algal mats, with a hope to uncover some of the genetic cues for
bacterial communication in nature and as a way of understanding how microbial
mats potentially gave rise to life on Earth.
mats are a complex consortium mainly consisting of cyanobacteria, with bacteria
and archaea as symbiotes. The cyanobacteria
are a collection of oxygen-producing bacteria that are probably the oldest
photosynthetic organisms on Earth. They are also responsible for causing a lot
of environmental problems and are the chief components of harmful freshwater
algal blooms. Human alterations to the environment are leading to increased
frequency and severity of such blooms, some of which locally in Jacksonville,
Fla. have putatively even led to dolphin mortalities. Cyanobacteria exist
everywhere on Earth from marine habitats to deserts, from freshwaters to
growing on the sides of buildings and discoloring roofs in Florida, so they are
some of the most ubiquitous organisms known.
Casamatta will work with his research
team to study modern-daymicrobial mats living
on the bottom of sinkholes underneath Lake Huron which experience an
oxygen-poor, sulfur-rich environment resembling life on early Earth. Studying
these mats can help tell the story of the origins of life on Earth,
better understand ecosystem processes, and discover new microorganisms.
The Diel Vertical Migration in the Mat
World project will aim to unravel some of the process of microbial movement and ecology through testing responses to
changing conditions. Using new technologies to examine the meta-genomics and
-transcriptomics (exploring both the native and expressed genetic material),
the researchers hope to be able to elucidate and articulate the genes involved
in structuring microbial communities. The research team will then compare their
work with other globally distributed cyanobacterial mat systems, such as those
from terrestrial springs and ice-covered Antarctic lakes. The diverse and
versatile mats may also serve as a useful working model for robotic exploration
of similar life in extraterrestrial waters.
The project will fuel active
collaboration between UNF, Grand Valley State University and a National Marine
Sanctuary as well as generate compelling research projects for students.
Read more on the NSF Collaborative Research Award: Biogeochemistry of diurnal vertical migration in microbial mats of Lake Huron’s sinkholes.