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A new tier to the ocean ecosystem: tiny packages of DNA

Researchers studying phytoplankton, which are abundant in sea water, have discovered the first known instance of vesicles being made by organisms in the ocean.
Researchers studying phytoplankton, which are abundant in sea water, have discovered the first known instance of vesicles being made by organisms in the ocean.Credit: Steven Biller

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For years, researchers studying phytoplankton abundant in sea water saw what looked like tiny little specks around the cells of interest. The researchers called them “blebs.”

Sallie Chisholm, a biological oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would show the images to colleagues and researchers who joined her laboratory to ask if they knew what they were — or were interested in finding out.

A few years ago, a postdoctoral scientist named Steven Biller took up the challenge. He had a hunch: the blebs looked like vesicles, spherical packets that are known to pinch off from bacterial cells.

Now, a careful examination has revealed that the blebs are indeed vesicles, containing DNA and proteins.

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