B-Vitamin deficiency photo

Scientists will further research the causes and effects of newly-discovered B Vitamin-deficient zones in the ocean

Using a newly developed analytical technique, a scientist from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and colleagues from the University of Southern California and Universidad Autonoma de Baja California were the first to identify long-hypothesized vitamin B deficient zones in the ocean. Their findings appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 23, 2012.

B vitamins are organic compounds dissolved in the ocean and are important for living cells to function. Zones poor in B vitamins may inhibit the growth and proliferation of phytoplankton, which are tiny microorganisms at the base of the food chain in the ocean.

The team developed a new method of concentrating water samples and then analyzing them using a mass spectrometer, which identifies and measures the quantity of an unknown compound in a given sample by first ionizing and breaking-up the compound and then quantifying the fragmented ions or molecules produced.

“An important result of our study is that the concentrations of the five major B vitamins vary independently and appear to have different sources and sink,” says co-author David Karl, professor of oceanography and director of the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) at UH Mānoa. “This could lead to complex interactions among populations of microbes, from symbiosis to intense competition.”

Team member Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy, professor of biological and earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said he plans to further investigate what causes varying amounts of B-vitamins in different regions of the ocean, and try to determine exactly how that affects phytoplankton blooms. This includes a comprehensive set of experiments in the North Pacific Ocean as part of C-MORE’s ongoing Hawaiʻi Ocean Experiment.

Adapted from a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa news release.