Microscopic algae that live in the ocean release countless tons of oxygen into the atmosphere each year. One group of widespread algae - known as coccolithophores - surround their tiny body with platelets made of a chalky mineral. Over several weeks in early summer, the algae populations grow to enormous numbers and cover hundreds of thousands of square kilometers in the ocean. However, suddenly the blooms collapse; the algae die and their chalky shells sink to the bottom of the ocean where they have been accumulating for millions of years.
In recent years we have begun to learn that coccolithophores associate with marine bacteria in exquisite ways; the whole range from mutualism to pathogenicity can be seen in algal-bacterial interactions. Our group studies how bacteria influence the life, death, and geological record of algae.