Collaborative Research: Chemical and biological characterizations of phosphonate and polyphosphonate dynamics in marine phytoplankton

Lead PI: Sonya Dyhrman

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

January 2013 - April 2016
Global ; Palisades, NY ; Atlanta, GA ; Columbia, SC
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Phosphorus (P) is a recognized essential nutrient for marine primary production and its inorganic chemistry has been well studied. However, the dissolved organic phosphorus pool (DOP) has been little studied even given its importance as a phosphorus source to microorganisms. This project will identify biogenic sources of P compounds to DOP using controlled culture studies focused on phosphonate and polyphosphate. These compound classes exert important controls over P cycling, carbon fixation and community structure and export from the upper ocean, and long-term sequestration. The study will employ innovative methods, including molecular tools and novel chemical analyses, to examine specific phosphonate and polyphosphate compound production by key phytoplankton taxa under different environmental conditions. Four hypotheses are driving the proposed research and focus the study on the primary research questions. The study will improve our understanding of the production of specific P compounds, and provide insight into the bioavailability of DOP and the influence of P on biological production.

The project will train three graduate students and there is a substantial outreach component associated with the study. The PIs will integrate education and outreach to K-12 communities using Whyville, an online virtual world geared specifically to 8-14 year old children. During this study, the investigators will expand the use of Whyville as a science learning tool through interactions with at-risk children as part of ScienceQuest, an after school program at a housing shelter, and through intensive summer short courses to school teachers.


National Science Foundation (NSF)


Ellery Ingall, Ben Van Mooy, Claudia Benitez-Nelson


Georgia Institute of Technology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of South Carolina



Numerous publications at


cellular p dynamics phosphorus phytoplankton cultures temperature ecosystems health and monitoring dissolved organic phosphorus


Earth fundamentals