DNA Analyses of Phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Yue (Catherina) Xu, Maria Fernanda Gonzalez and Shellie Bench, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
The Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is experiencing the fastest climate warming of any marine environment on Earth, with a 6°C rise in mean winter temperature over the past 60 years (Vaughan et al., 2003). Though poorly understood, these changes may have profound effects on local Antarctic ecosystems. This research project aims to identify these changes through the compositional analysis of Antarctic phytoplankton using DNA sequencing supported by fluorescent microscopy. During the 2013 and 2014 blooming seasons, December to March, water samples were obtained from Palmer Station (located on the WAP) and filtered through 3 μm/0.8 μm filters. DNA was extracted from the water samples using the Qiagen Plant Kit, quantified through use of both Nanodrop and Picogreen technology, quality-checked by gel electrophoresis, and sent to be sequenced. Additionally, major phytoplankton species were identified through microscope imaging and preliminary counts were made for four important dates, two located at the peaks of phytoplankton blooms. From these four samples alone, it appeared that cryptomonads dominated the primary bloom whereas diatoms, both centric and pennate, were more abundant during the second bloom. In the future, these results will be tested against sequencing data. Through continued year-by-year analysis of Antarctic phytoplankton abundance levels, it will be possible to identify trends that may be crucial to understanding the dynamic Antarctic ecosystem.