Microbial Ecology Laboratory

Microorganisms in the ocean's surface layer play an integral role in the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and ocean. However, even small changes in the metabolism of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) by microorganisms can impact the delicate balance between oceanic and atmospheric CO2. The microbial processes that determine DOC production, consumption, and distribution in the ocean are key factors in the global carbon cycle.

The Microbial Ecology Laboratory aims to understand the cell biology and biogeochemical activities of major bacterioplankton groups. These include marine bacteria and archaea that can influence the oceanic carbon, nitrogen and sulfur cycles through their metabolic processes. Scientists at BIOS, as well as partner institutions UC Santa Barbara and Oregon State University, are applying new technologies for cell culturing and studying both the metabolism of these organisms in nature, as well as their interactions with organic matter in the ocean. Research efforts are focused on the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site, located in a subtropical gyre with regular patterns of DOC cycling.

Highlights from the Microbial Ecology Laboratory include:

  • Sequencing the genome of SAR11, the single most successful group of bacteria in the ocean. With this information, scientists can work to identify genes that allow SAR11 to obtain carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which can provide insight into the secret of SAR11's success as a competitor in the world's ocean.
  • Demonstrating temporal and seasonal variability among bacterioplankton and virioplankton populations and community structures.
  • Improving capabilities to measure the quality and quantity of dissolved organic substrates.

For more information on the Microbial Ecology Laboratory, including past research foci and databases, please visit the Oceanic Microbial Observatory. For current research, please visit the BIOS-SCOPE website.

Contour plot showing a time-series of SAR11 distribution (x108 cells L-1) over 300m from 2003 to 2006 both temporal and spatial variability.









BIOS is committed to promoting diversity and equity in marine science and the wider STEM community. We strive to be a welcoming and inclusive community where all employees and visitors can develop, learn, grow, and discover, without regard to race, gender, sexuality, age, physical ability, creed, or country of origin. BIOS faculty and staff will honor and respect your experiences, perspectives, and unique identity.

In the News

This year, seventeen Bermudian students were selected for summer internships through the BIOS Bermuda Program, which offers participants the opportunity to conduct research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty and scientific staff. Jalisa Caines, a 2022 Bermuda Program Gray Intern, works in the Microbial Ecology Laboratory on a project investigating the expansion of the oxygen minimum zone at Devil’s Hole in Harrington Sound, Bermuda, and its effect on the nitrogen cycle.

‘An Amazing Place to Learn and Grow’

Earlier this month, scientists with the collaborative BIOS-SCOPE project completed their seventh research cruise aboard the BIOS-operated research vessel Atlantic Explorer. Among the many scientific investigations conducted during the four-day cruise was a study of Sargassum seaweed. Researchers are interested in the microbial communities that live on the surface of the brown algae, as well as what happens to the dissolved organic matter produced by the Sargassum, and what role it plays in the global carbon cycle. During the cruise, the ship came across a patch of Sargassum and a team was deployed in a small boat to collect samples of the algae to bring back for ship-based studies. From left to right: Joseph (Jo Jo) Paitone, Chance English, Krista Longnecker, Ella Cedarholm.

The Synergies of Sargassum Seaweed

Now in its third year, the BIOS Ocean Science Camp took place this July over two weeklong sessions. Designed for students aged 12 to 15 who are interested in Bermuda’s marine environments but haven’t gotten the opportunity to study marine science, the popular program provides a variety of activities that introduce participants to the foundations of scientific exploration through the lens of Bermuda’s unique island ecosystems. For many students, the highlight of the camp came on the last day of the week, when they learned the basics of SCUBA diving and took their first breaths underwater in a “Discover SCUBA Diving” experience.

New Explorations Abound for BIOS Ocean Science Camp

This year, seventeen Bermudian students were selected to participate in the BIOS Bermuda Program, an intensive summer internship program that gives students the opportunity to conduct scientific research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty and research staff. Iziah Tucker, a first year Bermuda Program intern, works with his mentor Rachel Parsons in the BIOS Microbial Ecology Laboratory on a project investigating how microbes colonize microplastics in the marine environment.

A Summer of STEM

Stephen Lightbourne, a physiotherapist in the Outpatient Physiotherapy Department at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, spent the summer of 2011 working as an intern in the BIOS Bermuda Program with research specialist Rachel Parsons. He credits the experience with teaching him how to work in a laboratory setting and involve himself in research, which he continues to do in his current practice as a physiotherapist.

Bermuda Program Internship Leads to Career in Local Healthcare

In January, BIOS removed an ultra-low temperature freezer (shown here being wrapped and readied for transport) from its research vessel, the Atlantic Explorer, and loaned it to the Bermuda Government's Ministry of Health to store incoming doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Unlike other vaccines, the Pfizer COVID vaccine must be kept below refrigeration temperatures, which means that specialized equipment—such as this ultra-low freezer—are required to protect the quality of the vaccine doses.

BIOS Loans Ultra-Low Temperature Freezer to Bermuda’s Ministry of Health

Craig Carlson oversees the deployment of the MOCNESS off the stern of the R/V Atlantic Explorer during a BIOS-SCOPE cruise

BIOS-SCOPE Funding Renewed


Answering the Call to Serve


BIOS Microbiologist Helping With Covid-19

Project Contact

Rachel Parsons
Research Specialist, Microbial Ecology Laboratory
Tel: 441-297-1880 x726


Project Team

Dr. Craig Carlson
Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara


Dr. Stephen Giovannoni
Professor, Oregon State University


Jessica Godfrey
Research Technician


Related Items

Carlson Microbial Oceanography Lab
Microscopy and Image Analysis Facility
Microscopy Images


Video Library

Preparing DAPI slides
Microbial Ecology Laboratory's Devil's Hole Project
DAPI Protocol
FISH Protocol
HR-DOM Protocol
Preparing Viral Abundance Slides