The oceans are home to some of the most unique, abundant and unexplored microbes on Earth. Every milliliter of seawater contains on average 1000 phytoplankton cells, one million bacteria and 10 million viruses! These organisms respond to their environment and interact with each other to influence major global physical, chemical and biological processes. Our lab is interested in studying how these organisms interact with each other and how these interactions influence their ecosystem, from coral health to algal blooms to bioprospecting.
In the water column, the phytoplankton are particularly important because they are responsible for ~50% of global photosynthesis and form the base of the marine food web. Their interactions with bacteria, mediated through chemical currencies, can lead to a wide range of interactions, spanning mutualism to antagonism, with potential global significance. In higher organisms like corals, specific groups of phytoplankton play a crucial role in maintaining coral health along with other microbes like bacteria, archaea and fungi. This collective coral microbiome is thought to play an important role in mitigating and/or exacerbating coral diseases that are now prevalent as a consequence of global warming. In marine sediments associated with highly productive environments, such as mangrove forests, microbes constantly interact with one another. These interactions are mediated through chemical signals and metabolites that may have potential for use in medical applications. We use a combination of chemical, microbiological and ecological methods to gain a better understanding of these relationships and to identify novel molecules produced by marine microbes.