A new research by a marine microbial ecologist at the University of Georgia in US has suggested that bacteria in coastal waters perform a much wider range of functions than previously believed, thus indicating that they are 'generalists' and not restricted to just one activity.
According to the research, the roles played by bacteria in coastal waters aren't nearly as specific as some scientists suspected.
In fact, these bacteria are generalists in how they get their nourishment and may have the option of doing many different things, depending on what works best at the time.
While the new research confirms predictions by ecological theorists, it is among the first clear demonstrations at the experimental level that coastal ocean bacteria can act as "tidewater utility infielders," changing their functions depending on local food supply.
"If you asked me earlier how different species of coastal bacteria use their available food supplies, I would have said each species is optimized for very specialized uses," said Mary Ann Moran, the marine microbial ecologist who had led the research.
"But our new research says most are carrying out multiple processes when it comes to carbon cycling," she added.
This fact was established when the researchers examined the metabolic capabilities of bacteria involved in breaking down organic carbon compounds.
Though the idea for bacterial generalists isn't new, but this is the first experimental evidence for marine coastal bacteria as generalists.
Understanding more about the genomes of bacteria has allowed researchers to ask much narrower questions than ever before, and the result has been a new ability to understand how marine bacteria live and interact in the ocean.
The research in the current study was done in an area off the coast of Sapelo Island, Georgia, and while the findings about bacterial generalists may hold true for similar coastal ecosystems, researchers don't know if the same will be true in deep-ocean or other sea environments.