Whitman et al 1998 Unseen Majority

Whitman et al 1998 Unseen Majority - Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci....

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Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Vol. 95, pp. 6578–6583, June 1998 Perspective Prokaryotes: The unseen majority William B. Whitman* ² , David C. Coleman , and William J. Wiebe § Departments of *Microbiology, Ecology, and § Marine Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens GA 30602 ABSTRACT The number of prokaryotes and the total amount of their cellular carbon on earth are estimated to be 4–6 3 10 30 cells and 350–550 Pg of C (1 Pg 5 10 15 g), respectively. Thus, the total amount of prokaryotic carbon is 60–100% of the estimated total carbon in plants, and inclusion of prokaryotic carbon in global models will almost double estimates of the amount of carbon stored in living organisms. In addition, the earth’s prokaryotes contain 85–130 Pg of N and 9–14 Pg of P, or about 10-fold more of these nutrients than do plants, and represent the largest pool of these nutrients in living organisms. Most of the earth’s prokaryotes occur in the open ocean, in soil, and in oceanic and terrestrial subsurfaces, where the numbers of cells are 1.2 3 10 29 , 2.6 3 10 29 , 3.5 3 10 30 , and 0.25–2.5 3 10 30 , respectively. The numbers of het- erotrophic prokaryotes in the upper 200 m of the open ocean, the ocean below 200 m, and soil are consistent with average turnover times of 6–25 days, 0.8 yr, and 2.5 yr, respectively. Although subject to a great deal of uncertainty, the estimate for the average turnover time of prokaryotes in the subsurface is on the order of 1–2 3 10 3 yr. The cellular production rate for all prokaryotes on earth is estimated at 1.7 3 10 30 cells y yr and is highest in the open ocean. The large population size and rapid growth of prokaryotes provides an enormous capacity for genetic diversity. Although invisible to the naked eye, prokaryotes are an essential component of the earth’s biota. They catalyze unique and indispensable transformations in the biogeochemical cy- cles of the biosphere, produce important components of the earth’s atmosphere, and represent a large portion of life’s genetic diversity. Although the abundance of prokaryotes has been estimated indirectly (1, 2), the actual number of pro- karyotes and the total amount of their cellular carbon on earth have never been directly assessed. Presumably, prokaryotes’ very ubiquity has discouraged investigators, because an esti- mation of the number of prokaryotes would seem to require endless cataloging of numerous habitats. To estimate the number and total carbon of prokaryotes on earth, several representative habitats were first examined. This analysis indicated that most of the prokaryotes reside in three large habitats: seawater, soil, and the sediment y soil subsur- face. Although many other habitats contain dense populations, their numerical contribution to the total number of pro- karyotes is small. Thus, evaluating the total number and total carbon of prokaryotes on earth becomes a solvable problem. Aquatic Environments.
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This note was uploaded on 08/06/2008 for the course ESM 219 taught by Professor Holden during the Fall '07 term at UCSB.

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Whitman et al 1998 Unseen Majority - Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci....

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