The Department of Energy awarded Professor Vincent Denef a grant valued at $150,000 for sequencing microbial and viral DNA from Lake Huron. The award is through the DoE Joint Genome Institute's Community Sequencing Program.

The goal of the study is “to determine how dynamic the Lake Huron microbial communities are in function of near-shore to off-shore, day to night and season-to-season environmental dynamics,” said Denef.

According to Denef’s project summary, “Most freshwater systems are net carbon dioxide emitters due to the processing of terrestrial carbon. The Laurentian Great Lakes, which are the focus of my research program, are the largest surface freshwater system in the world (approximately 20 percent of all surface freshwater) and are threatened by significant regional changes in the next century due to global change (climate, land use, and invasive species).

“While the role of bacterio- and virioplankton communities as part of the aquatic microbial loop is well appreciated, the resolution at which these communities are incorporated into food web models is very coarse. Efforts to increase this resolution by metagenomic sequencing are rapidly increasing our insights into marine microbial life yet lag significantly behind in freshwater environments. The samples focused on in this proposal derive from three research cruises on Lake Huron (spring, summer, and fall 2012) as an integrated part of the interagency (Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Geological Survey) Year of Lake Huron research cruises examining the entire food web.

“This work will provide baseline information on how subtle gradients (e.g., temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, dissolved organic matter, higher trophic level biomass/composition) constrain microbial community structure and activity in Lake Huron. The eventual goal of my research program is to develop better predictions of microbial feedback responses to global change in the Great Lakes region.”

Watch for U-M News Service coverage of Denef’s microbial work in the Great Lakes in the coming year. “If all goes well, my team and I will be doing field work in Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior next year,” said Denef.

The research proposed will not only generate data important for the Great Lakes scientific community, but will also provide important benchmarks for understanding microbial communities inhabiting lakes, for which data remain scarce.