SF State News {University Communications}

Image: Photos of SF State students and scenes from around campus

University unveils Web redesign

February 8, 2008 -- SF State today rolled out a new Web design template that will provide a visually appealing and unifying design for the University's colleges and departments.

$1.2 million NSF award to RTC researchers

December 12, 2007 -- The calcifying phytoplankton Emiliania huxleyi is so prolific and widespread that its hundreds of miles of blooms on the Earth's oceans can be easily detected by satellites. While a powerhouse player in photosynthesis, its survival may be threatened by a steadily growing rate of ocean acidification caused by rising atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels. Researchers at SF State's Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies (RTC) received $1.2 million in funding from the environmental genomics program at the National Science Foundation to study how this species might respond to changes in ocean acidification.

Ed Carpenter, Tomoko Komada and Jonathon Stillman

Left to right: Komada, Carpenter, Stillman

Professor of Biology Ed Carpenter, Assistant Professor of Oceanography Tomoko Komada and Assistant Professor of Biology Jonathon Stillman plan to grow populations of E. huxleyi in their RTC labs under conditions representing the current and future ocean environment as it may be changed because of increasing acidification.

"E. Huxleyi is ideal to study how calcifying organisms may respond to ocean acidification," Stillman said. "This species can be cultivated in the laboratory for many generations and has had its genome sequenced." He added that acidification is expected to have a significant effect on calcifying organisms like E. huxleyi, which bears a crusty, calcium carbonate exoskeleton.

The acidification levels predicted are capable of dissolving this layer and affecting E. huxleyi's growth rate. The decline of such a robust producer could affect the Earth's carbon cycle. Phytoplankton accounts for about half of the Earth's annual carbon dioxide absorption.

Carpenter, whose research studies phytoplankton's role as a producer and the factors that limit phytoplankton growth, will grow the E. huxleyi cells and study photosynthetic performance during the study. "We plan to control the growth rate so each cell divides once per day and produces two daughter cells," he said. "We expect to cultivate at least 700 generations, which will allow us to measure the ability of these phytoplankton to evolve in response to future ocean conditions."

Stillman's lab will extract RNA molecules from the cells, and use genomic tools to study the genes being activated in the different conditions.

Image of phytoplankton blooms on world's oceans

Green areas of the ocean are phytoplankton blooms.

Komada, whose body of research examines the ocean's carbon cycle, will create and direct the changes to the experiment's environment by adjusting the CO2 levels in the phytoplankton's lab environment. "Higher atmospheric CO2 makes the seawater more acidic because carbonic acid is produced when CO2 dissolves in seawater," she said.

"We have asked the right question at the right time," Carpenter said. "I don't think that we would have received this funding if each one of us wasn't a part of this."

The study is expected to take three years. The team said their findings about how E. huxleyi responds to ocean acidification would also pertain to other calcifying organisms such as corals, starfish, sea urchins and crustaceans.

-- Denize Springer

-- Michael Bruntz


Share this story:



SF State Home