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Department of Plant Sciences

Invisible world within our waters

Every drop of freshwater contains hundreds of different organic compounds, yet the biological role of this vast chemical diversity has remained a mystery.  New research by the Tanentzap group now shows that microbial life is connected to the chemical environment in ways that can influence carbon cycling.

As part of the NERC-funded RELATED project, the group studied the microbial and chemical diversity of lake sediments.  They discovered that the diversity of naturally occurring organic compounds, which mainly come from dead plants, were strongly associated with the diversity of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi.  Under experimental scenarios that simulated future changes in forests around lakes, the resulting increases in chemical diversity could increase greenhouse gas concentrations by between 1.5 to 2.7 times.

More broadly, this research shows how variation in the chemical environment widely reported in nature influences microbial communities and the important functions that they perform.

Tanentzap AJ, Fitch A, Orland C, Emilson EJS, Yakimovich KM, Osterholz H, Dittmar T. (2019) Chemical and microbial diversity covary in fresh water to influence ecosystem functioning. PNAS.