News Source: 
The Daily
February 26, 2014

Although it was previously believed that B-12 vitamins in the ocean can be manufactured only by marine bacteria, by measuring and tracking the essential vitamins in the ocean, UW researchers discovered that a completely different class of organisms in the kingdom of archaea can also produce this essential vitamin. The researchers presented the results of their study at the Ocean Sciences meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Monday.

Only certain microbes can produce vitamin B-12, which involves a complicated process of more than 30 steps. However, because all marine animals and some marine bacteria and phytoplankton need this essential vitamin, many marine organisms search for food loaded with it.

The UW researchers grew a common type of open-ocean archaea in the lab. With the use of high-technology methods such as mass spectrometry, they found that the single-celled organisms can produce enough B-12 to not only support its own growth but also the growth of other organisms.

“It’s hard to quantify their [the archaea’s] contribution,” UW assistant professor of oceanography Anitra Ingalls said in a UW Today news release. “This is a first glimpse at their potential to contribute to this pool of vitamins.”

The UW researchers now hope to learn where specific microbes are producing the vitamins to better understand the base of the marine food web and how it may change in a dynamic environment. In addition, they want to determine where various marine animals can obtain a well-balanced diet.

“The public really has a strange relationship to microorganisms,” Ingalls said. “People know they cause disease, so they want to kill them. But they’re also the only reason that we — or whales, fish, or coral reefs — are alive.”