Oceans

The National Science Foundation gave a $2 million grant to the UGA researchers and will allow them to further their research on the creation of clouds by microorganisms. (Photo:Norman Kuring, Ocean Biology Processing Group, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA).

When a clear sunny day turns into clouds, people used it to explain their grave mood without taking into consideration how clouds can affect global warming in the atmosphere. But University of Georgia marine researchers have discovered the process of an anti-greenhouse gas known as DMSP (dimethylsulfoniopropionate) that can be used by certain bacteria to create clouds.

A $2 million grant given by the National Science Foundation to the UGA researchers and will allow them to further their research on the creation of clouds by microorganisms.

Mary Ann Moran, a research professor at the department of marine sciences at UGA, said there are two parts to their research.

“The reason we got the grant is because there are bacteria in the ocean that take a really common compound in the ocean known as DMSP, which has sulfur in it and is also made by the algae in the ocean,” she said. “Then they take the compound and make it into a gas that comes up out of the ocean and is one of the compounds that can form clouds.”

Moran said her initial reaction when receiving the grant was surprise.

“It’s hard to get grant these days and this is our first time putting in a request for a grant so I was really excited it was funded,” she said. “And I think that’s probably an understatement.”

William Whitman, a professor in the department of microbiology at UGA, said the DMSP gas is an anti-greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

“This gas can help with global warming because the creation of clouds causes cooling. The sunlight is reflecting back off the earth’s surface so it doesn’t warm as much,” he said.

He said a large portion of their work will now be done in the ocean.

“There are a number of bacteria that can turn DMSP into a gas, but the ones we studied most are roseobacters and they’re named because many of them are pink and they are very common in the ocean,” he said.

Moran said there are two pathways the bacteria can take with the DMSP compound.

“They take the compound with carbon and sulfur in it and they break it in between. If they break it to where there are two carbons and sulfur, then it will become a gas. But if they don’t break it at that certain place, it’ll never make that gas,” she said. “They can break it a part at a different place and use the sulfur as protein for themselves.”

Moran said the process of marine bacteria making DMSP into a gas to get it into the atmosphere is a very important root.

“We found out that some bacteria can make the compound or take it the other way, but the second part of our research is trying to find out what are the factors in the environment that cause them to make the gas or take it in another pathway,” Moran said. “That we don’t know yet, but this grant will help us go out to the ocean and find that out.”

Whitman said right now they are at the phase where they’re trying to develop understanding of the processes that are involved.

“Understanding these processes will possibly allow us to predict the effects of climate change and understand what is occurring,” he said.