It isn't just people. Marine bacteria also organize into professions or lifestyle groups that partition many resources rather than competing for them. Microbes with one lifestyle, such as free-floating cells, flourish in proximity with closely related microbes that may spend life attached to zooplankton or algae.
This new information about microbial groups and the methodology behind it could change the way scientists approach the classification of microbes by making it possible to determine on a large scale, relatively speaking, the genetic basis for ecological niches. Microbes drive almost all chemical reactions in the ocean; it’s important to identify the specific professions held by different groups.
“This is the first method to accurately differentiate the ecological niche or profession among large groups of microbes in the ocean,” said Professor Martin Polz, a microbiologist in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He and colleague Professor Eric Alm, a computational biologist, published a paper describing their research in the May 23 issue of Science.