Evaluating the Carbon Degradation Potential of Marine plasmids

By: Pranav M.
Year: 2022
School: University High
Grade: 12
Science Teacher: Timothy Smay

Marine ecosystems play a critical role in the global carbon cycle, and bacteria are the primary drivers of carbon degradation in these environments. However, the distribution and diversity of carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes) on plasmids, which are non-chromosomal DNA, of marine bacteria have been relatively understudied until now.

Pranav’s research is a significant contribution to the field of microbial ecology and microbiology, as it sheds light on the role of plasmids in the carbon degradation process in marine environments. It won American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), Southern California Section special award in OCSEF 2022. By utilizing a bioinformatic approach, Pranav was able to evaluate the quantity and distribution of CAZymes found on plasmids in marine bacteria.

The results of Pranav’s study were quite fascinating, as they revealed that marine plasmids harbor a vast array of CAZymes, representing 56 unique types across all six CAZyme families. Notably, Glycoside Hydrolases were the most represented CAZyme family, representing 45% of the total. Conversely, only two CAZymes of the polysaccharide lyase family were identified, which is a minuscule proportion.

The identification of these CAZymes on plasmids provides important insights into the potential for carbon degradation in marine environments. It also raises questions about the selective pressures that have driven marine plasmids to harbor these enzymes. For instance, it is possible that marine bacteria may be using plasmids to acquire novel CAZymes that enable them to degrade specific types of carbon compounds.

Another fascinating aspect of Pranav’s research is the diversity of enzymatic function that these CAZymes represent. The target substrates of these enzymes were quite varied, representing a broad range of enzymatic functions within the population. This diversity suggests that marine bacteria are well-equipped to degrade a wide range of carbon compounds, providing them with a competitive advantage in the marine ecosystem.