If there is a problem built for a systems-based research approach, climate change – with its complex carbon and nitrogen cycles, numerous species involvement, and interaction of geographical zones – would be an excellent candidate. Concurrent with the launch of the systems-based microbial research journal, mSystemsTM, Editor-in-Chief Jack Gilbert has contributed an article to the most recent Cultures magazine on just this subject.
Most people think first of polar bears and other arctic animals when considering climate change, but microbes will also be impacted by global warming. Edwards illustrates this with contradictory studies of the impact of ocean acidification on unicellular phytoplankton. Acidification, one of the known effects of climate change, decreases the ability of the phytoplankton, Gephyrocapsa oceanica, to build its calcium carbonate “shell” (see image, right) yet increases primary productivity of the organism. How will these effects interact to affect the G. oceanica population? As food for multicellular organisms higher up in the food chain, determining the net outcome of these disparate studies is important – and a role for systems microbiology, argues Edwards.
Microbes of the sea aren’t the only microorganisms that will impact, and be impacted by, climate change. Terrestrial temperature fluctuations that impact microbial makeup will also resonate to effect larger-scale transformations. Warming permafrost allows microbes to access carbon that, when metabolized, will be released as atmospheric carbon via respiration, exacerbating warming. Temperature changes in nonfrozen soils also experience shifts in microbial makeup and metabolism, and an ‘omics-based approach is the best way to understand the complex interactions between temperature, microbial inhabitants, nutrient availability, and metabolic activity in soils.
These are the types of problems that will be addressed in the new mSystemsTM journal, the home for systems biology of both individual microbes and microbial communities. Recently unveiled on its home HighWire site, the articles will be searchable by subjects, which include an “Ecological and Evolutionary Science” category. Check with mSystemsTM to see weekly updates in this and other subjects – and meanwhile, read the Cultures piece for more in-depth examples of climate change in a microbial world.
-- Julie Wolf