Ocean Science and Engineering Presents Dr. Al Dove and Dr. Frank Stewart
Microbial Solutions in an Engineered Ocean: A Microbial Consortium Drives Nitrogen Removal in the World's Largest Indoor Saltwater Exhibit
Engineered aquatic systems such as aquaria and aquaculture facilities have large societal value. Ensuring the health of animals in these systems requires understanding how microorganisms contribute to chemical cycling and waste removal.
Focusing on the largest seawater aquarium in the United States, and leveraging an academic-industry partnership between Georgia Tech and Georgia Aquarium, this research explores the microbial communities in specialized reactors designed to remove excess nitrogen through the metabolic activity of sulfur-consuming microbes.
We show that the diversity of microbes in these reactors is both high and highly variable, with distinct community types associated with significant differences in nitrogen removal rate. We also show that the genes encoding the metabolic steps of nitrogen removal are distributed broadly throughout community members, suggesting that the chemical transformations in this system are likely a result of microbes relying on other microbes.
These results provide a framework for future studies exploring how different community members interact to drive chemical cycles in aquatic ecosystems, as well as highlight a novel engineered system for waste removal in an artificial ocean.