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Ocean Acidification Affects Bacteria's Ability To Clean Oceans

First Posted: Jan 13, 2016 02:53 PM EST
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Ocean acidification, which is the decrease of the pH in the Earth's oceans, has been an ongoing process that affects marine creatures and plants. Researchers found that ocean acidification caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide has a major impact on marine bacteria, where it reduces the ability of bacteria to clean the oceans, according to a study at Linnaeus University.

"It is well known that the acidification of our oceans causes the degradation of coral reefs and disturbs the production of the calcareous shells of important phytoplankton," Jarone Pinhassi, coauthor of study, said in a news release. "However, it is new that also bacteria are affected negatively by ocean acidification".

The researchers found that ocean bacteria that is exposed to acidification are forced alter their metabolism. Bacteria then move from degradation to investing energy as the water becomes acidic. Bacteria are essential degraders of organic materials, which are produced from microscopic algae in the ocean or from waste water. Algae and dead organisms are degraded by bacteria, which function as the wastewater treatment plants in the ocean. In addition, bacteria help release nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, which are essential to the food chain.

There are around one billion bacterial cells in every liter of ocean water. Bacteria in the ocean determines the health of marine ecosystems similar to the role of bacteria in the human gut. 

Researchers predict that by the end of the century, the world's oceans will be three times more acidic if human-related carbon dioxide emissions continue to be released at current rates. 

"Now our genetic analyses show that ocean acidification directly affect how bacteria regulate their metabolism," said Pinhassi. "In order to understand the consequences of future climate change on the productivity of the ocean, it is essential to carry out research on how bacteria respond to human emissions of carbon dioxide."

The findings of this study were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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