An Ocean of Research at MBL
June 8 is World Oceans Day. Started in 1992 by the United Nations, World Oceans Day is for acknowledging and celebrating the role of the oceans in everyday life and inspiring action to preserve, protect, and sustainably use marine resources.
“Being tossed around in a storm in a small boat far from land can make the ocean seem vast, deep, and immensely more powerful than humans. But slowly, over the centuries, humans have changed the oceans in large and small ways,” says Anne Giblin, director of the MBL’s Ecosystems Center.
Oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface. They moderate our climate and help regulate the water and carbon cycles of the planet. Healthy oceans are also crucial in limiting the effects of global warming. A blanket of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere traps heat and prevents it from escaping into space. Most of that excess atmospheric heat ends up in the ocean, which can absorb massive quantities of heat without a large increase in temperature. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the ocean absorbs more than 90 percent of excess heat from Earth's system.
In order to protect the oceans, we must first understand them. Take a look at just some of the recent MBL research revolving around the oceans and the organisms that live there.
Salt marshes are some of the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth. According to decades of research from the MBL Ecosystems Center, more than 90 percent of the world’s salt marshes are likely to be underwater by 2100.
In Nature Communications, MBL’s Margherita Perillo and colleagues reveal design principles for the formation of tubes in the embryo that go on to become blood vessels, the digestive tract, or complex organs. They studied development in the bat sea star (P. miniata).
For nearly 50 years, a jawless fish called the lamprey has interested scientists because of its remarkable ability to recover from spinal cord injuries. A recent study reveals a possible technique lampreys may use to swim again, despite sparse neural regeneration. Christina Hamlet of Bucknell University and collaborators, including Jennifer R. Morgan of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), used a mathematical model to demonstrate how lampreys may use body-sensing feedback to regain swimming abilities after spinal injury. The study could inspire new therapeutic approaches in humans or algorithms for locomotion in soft robots. The paper is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A recent study by MBL Fellow Linda Amaral-Zettler uncovers how the interplay between Sargassum spp., plastic marine debris and Vibrio bacteria creates the perfect “pathogen” storm that has implications for both marine life and public health. Vibrio bacteria are found in waters around the world and are the dominant cause of death in humans from the marine environment.
An international team of scientists, including a group collaborating at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), has discovered how the skate evolved these cape-like fins by peering into its DNA. They found that the key to the evolution of skate fins lies not in the coding regions of its genome, but rather in the non-coding regions and the three-dimensional complexes it folds into. These 3D structures are called “topologically associated domains” (TADs).
Scientists at UMass Chan Medical School and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) have identified the first gene – Bmal1 – to play a crucial role in regulating circatidal behavior in the crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis. Circatidal rhythms help animals cope with the rise and fall of the tides in coastal areas. Published in Current Biology, the study by neurobiologists Patrick Emery, Joshua Rosenthal and colleagues demonstrates the first molecular link between circatidal and circadian clocks, while establishing P. hawaiensis as a powerful new animal system for studying the genetics underlying circatidal rhythms.