Study of Marine Organisms Found Deep Below Ocean Floor Take Island University Professor to Germany

April 17, 2015

Study of Marine Organisms Found Deep Below Ocean Floor Take Island University Professor to Germany

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Deep, deep down below the sea floor, live thriving fungi that could be the next penicillin-like wonder drug.

Island University’s Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese, Assistant Professor in the Department of Life Sciences, is studying microbial life found in the deep marine sediments and soon will travel to Germany to continue her research at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, supported by funds and accommodations from Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study.

She will head to the institute in Bremen, Germany, this summer and again in 2016 to study samples collected from the South Pacific Gyre during an Integrated Ocean Drilling Program expedition.

It is only recently that fungi were discovered to be living, and thriving, in the deep-sea sediments -- sometimes as deep as 127 meters below the sea floor. Of the at least eight groups identified in the samples, the team succeeded in growing cultures of four of the fungi. This was a fortuitous discovery that was made while researching bacterial life in these deep subsurface samples. 

Reese said these fungi may be able to break down elements such as some specific forms of carbons which other microscopic organisms are not capable of breaking down, making it into food for those other microorganisms to thrive.

Because these fungi exist below the South Pacific Gyre, a nutrient-depleted zone with little marine life, it is speculated that these fungi are providing an important food source for other microorganisms important to the global carbon cycle.

Reese’s time in Germany will allow her to do lipid analysis with radio isotopes using techniques that she is interested in bringing back to the Island University.

In addition, these fungi could become important to those of us on land. Some of the fungi under study belong to the genus Penicillium, the source of penicillin, a drug relied heavily on and the subject of some concern as it seems to be losing its effectiveness against the illnesses it’s currently used to treat.

“This is adding a new family of potential drugs,” Reese said.