Name: Professor Steve Giovannoni
Position: Distinguished Professor
Institution: Oregon State University
Location: Corvallis, OR, USA
Tell me a little bit about your research
We study marine plankton, mainly focusing on the bacteria that oxidize organic carbon to CO2. Most of our research is about SAR11 bacteria, which are the most abundant plankton group worldwide. We use a wide variety of methods, including lab based approaches with cultured cells and research at sea. Culturing the so called "dark matter" of microbial diversity - the microorganisms that don't like the lab, is perhaps our trademark. We want to discover new phenomena that will make a difference to understanding the oceans, so when we are on the trail of a idea that interests us we'll branch out into different technologies if they are needed, rather than sticking with what we know. Right now there are chemists, genome bioinformaticists, and microbiologists all working together in the lab. There are several different projects underway. One is focused on new biochemistry that we think cells are using to oxidize semi-labile organic matter, which is organic carbon that hangs around for awhile because its not easy for cells to metabolize.
How did you become interested in marine science?
I was born a few blocks from the beach in San Francisco and I've been surfing and sailing since I was a kid. This was a natural direction for me to take.
What is the most interesting thing about marine microbiology?
There is so much waiting to be discovered, and marine science is more integrated than most other science, so we get to work with chemists geologists, physicists etc.
What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the oceans and marine science?
Predicting what will happen as the oceans warm and become more acidic are the biggest challenges we face.
The theme for the 2015/16 World Oceans Day is ‘Health Oceans, Healthy Planet’ – what does this mean to you?
I teach a course about the impact of microbial evolution on earth history. When you study all that has happened to the planet in the past, you really appreciate that we are living on a beautiful planet today, but things can go wrong. In the World Ocean Day theme I see a positive awareness of our responsibility for stewardship of the planet.