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'Black Box' Plankton Found to Have Huge Role in Ocean Carbon Fixation

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, grow in vast numbers in the sunlit surface waters of the oceans, the photic zone. They use sunlight to 'fix' carbon by converting carbon dioxide into sugars and other organic compounds through photosynthesis.

Cyanobacteria belong to the 'picophytoplankton', the tiniest phytoplankton. Until now they have been thought to dominate carbon fixation in the open ocean, with species belonging to the genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus being particularly abundant.

Like all bacteria, cyanobacteria are prokaryotes, distinguished from eukaryotes by the absence of a cell nucleus. However, although much less abundant than cyanobacteria, the photic zone also has a high biomass of small eukaryotic phytoplankton capable of carbon fixation.

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