SOS: Saving Our
Oceans with Science
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When you live in San Diego and other coastal communities, the beauty and many benefits of the ocean are a daily part of our lives. Although our oceans have proven somewhat resilient to many threats, their ability to bounce back cannot be taken for granted. Increasing temperatures, pollution, and overfishing are a global problem with massive implications for our oceans. Today, JCVI scientists are working urgently on several projects to understand the mechanisms of ocean resilience and to develop novel methods to help protect our oceans.
Coral reef probiotics
More than 30% of the remaining global coral population are at risk and that number is estimated to rise dramatically in the coming decades. JCVI scientists and collaborators recently developed and tested a new probiotic to act as a proactive therapeutic. Treated corals showed an increased survival rate of 40% when faced with the stresses of increased water temperatures. This research starts to elucidate how certain microbial organisms can protect corals by regulating the host response. More research is crucial to maximize the potential of these probiotics.
It is estimated that about 150 million tons of plastic are currently in the ocean. Most of it is nonbiodegradable and over time is fragmented into microplastics that eventually enter our food chain. Through surface water sampling, JCVI scientists have observed microbial communities colonizing these plastics and, in some cases, degrading them. Soon, a JCVI scientist will conduct further research on Alvin, a manned deep ocean research submersible, that will go as far as 4 miles down to collect new microplastic samples on the ocean floor where 99% of it ends up. This research aims to identify novel plastic degradation pathways and enzymes that are more efficient at breaking down plastics in the hope that these genes and gene pathways can be harnessed to help tackle this growing environmental problem.
Coastal virus monitoring
Nearly 2.4 billion people live within 60 miles of the coast, yet we know surprisingly little about the unseen but crucial life in the ocean. Simple rain storms in San Diego contaminate coastal waters with human viruses. Unfortunately not much is known about costal microbial dynamics and how resilient these important ecological systems are to disturbances, such as this influx of non-native viruses or other environmental phenomena. Models show that the effects of climate change are accelerating and will bring even more heat, drought, and heavy rainfalls. One proposed study by JCVI scientists is to conduct water sampling multiple times daily to see how these critical ecosystems are responding before increasingly unpredictable weather patterns worsen and further disrupt them.