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Microbial exopolymers: sources, chemico-physiological properties, and ecosystem effects in the marine environment

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A large proportion of the total carbon in the World Ocean is in the form of dissolved organic matter (DOM), which is comparable in mass to the carbon in atmospheric CO2. A major source of this material derives from the synthesis and release of exopolymers by bacteria and eukaryotic phytoplankton. These ...

A large proportion of the total carbon in the World Ocean is in the form of dissolved organic matter (DOM), which is comparable in mass to the carbon in atmospheric CO2. A major source of this material derives from the synthesis and release of exopolymers by bacteria and eukaryotic phytoplankton. These polymers serve important functions in marine environments, where they may be involved in microbial adhesion to solid surfaces and biofilm formation, the emulsification of hydrocarbon oils to enhance biodegradation, mediating the fate and mobility of heavy metals and trace metal nutrients, or interacting with dissolved and/or particulate organic matter. This wide spectrum of functional activity is reflected not merely in the complex chemistry of these biopolymers, but also in the diversity of bacterial and phytoplankton genera found producing them. The potential significance for marine exopolymers to influence the fate and ultimate degradation of hydrocarbon pollutants in the ocean, particularly at oil-contaminated sites, remains largely unknown. The recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is testament to the significant role that microorganisms and their produced exopolymers play in the transportation of crude oil to the seafloor through the process of marine oil snow sedimentation & flocculant accumulation (MOSSFA). However, no methods currently exist that can accurately trace the production of polymeric substances to their biological source in environmental samples. This, for example, has circumvented our ability to explain what type(s) of polymeric substances participated in the formation of flocs or marine oil snow (MOS), and to consequently link them to a producing organism(s). This Research Topic will focus on research that utilizes new experimental and multidisciplinary approaches and techniques to reveal a greater level of understanding on the sources, chemical and physiological properties, and ecophysiological function and cycling of microbial exopolymers in the marine environment. We also welcome contributions about microbial populations that produce and cycle microbial exopolymers, and their ecosystem-level impacts in different marine habitats in the context of environmental disturbance.


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