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Sulfur into clouds

In a naturally-occuring process, sulfur makes its way from microbes in the ocean up into the atmosphere where it plays a part in the formation of clouds. The phenomenon has long been know, but now scientists are learning more about how it actually happens:

A new $2 million National Science Foundation grant will allow the UGA-led research group to further document how genes in ocean microbes transform sulfur into clouds in the Earth's atmosphere.

Co-principal investigators on the grant are Franklin College of Arts and Sciences professors Mary Ann Moran of the department of marine sciences and William "Barny" Whitman of the department of microbiology. The team is joined by Ronald Keine, a marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, and James Birch and Chris Scholin, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.


Engineers at Monterrey Bay had created an autonomous ocean-going instrument that houses a miniaturized molecular lab that sits in the ocean, takes in water, extracts DNA from cells, analyzes DNA and sends the information back to shore via radio modem, providing scientists with real-time ocean data.

"They were looking for good uses of their unique instrument that would be scientifically valuable," Moran said. "We deployed primers for bacterial DMSP genes in their ocean-going molecular lab and caught an example of DMSP pathway regulation as it happened, for the first time ever."

Dr. Moran has been working on marine bacteria for more than 15 years, so this is a great example of long-term, sustained research that begins to uncover clues about wider phenomena. In addition, it's an impotant example of scientists at different institutions, with different capabilities, working together to help each other in pursuit of broader goals. This research might gain attention for its connections to geo-engneering strategies to combat global warming, but it's important in its own right. Congratulations to the research group for thier findings and this new support from NSF.

Image: Photo of the measurement instrument, pre-deployment, coutesy of Mary Ann Moran. Note the artistic rendering of the UGA arch in what appears to be electrical tape. 

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