Oceans of Microscopic Triffids

Dr Aditee Mitra, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research in the University’s Department of Biosciences, recently presented her research at the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research (IMBER)-IMBIZO III meeting in Goa on how the oceans are swarming with microscopic Triffids.

Microscopic TriffidsLike John Wyndham’s fictional 2m high Triffids, these single-celled organisms combine plant-like photosynthesis with animal-like predatory behaviour. And like the Triffids, the feeding methods of these organisms, such as inserting a straw into their living prey and sucking the innards out, would still make your stomach churn. Aditee co-leads a Leverhulme International Network unravelling the secrets of these mixotrophic microbes. Mixotrophs are typically ignored by mainstream marine ecologists, however, the work carried out within the aegis of the Leverhulme Network indicates that in fact these mixotrophs dominate the oceanic food webs and play an important ecological role in biogeochemical processing. A major role Aditee plays in this programme is investigating if climate-change events may promote the importance of these organisms still further.

Image: Mixotrophs getting their own back on a copepod, an animal traditionally viewed as their predator (supplied by Dr Terje Berje, University of Copenhagen, Denmark)