Microbes of the Deep: Peter R. Girguis Discusses Ocean Microbial Life and Our Biosphere
Professor Girguis studies microorganism in the ocean and their contributions that make our planet habitable.
In this conversation, he explores
- How and why some microbes live in these extreme environments around hydrothermal vents and methane seeps;
- How these chemo autotrophs, or organisms that feed off of chemicals, connect to life in the upper reaches of the ocean and what that means to fisheries; and
- Why a reframing of ocean science is important in understanding and taking care of the interconnectedness of our biosphere.
Peter R. Girguis is a professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. He works in a field of molecular biology that studies microbes and animals that live in the ocean, especially microbial organisms that interact with metals like iron and magnesium, which he describes as akin to the multivitamins of the ocean. His microbiology study focuses especially on bacteria and archaea.
These microbes inhabit environments, like hydrothermal vents and methane seeps, to feed off the released metals, which are toxic to most animals. Professor Girguis utilizes molecular biology to understand how these microbes play a role in moving energy from the abiotic world, or nonliving structures like rocks, to the biotic world.
Significantly, this microbiology study connects to the food chain. He mentions one study that shows how plankton feed on these microbes which in turn feed small fish that are eaten by the larger fish off the coast of Chile, which are integral to the fishing industry there.
He describes other elements to this underwater architecture, from methane ice to giant sulfide structures, and how some fish use these extreme environments to rid themselves of parasites. He also posits a new view of ocean science that is much more outward looking and should engage people from all over the world.