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Chapter 35 : The Siren Call of the Sea
The author's work focused on bacteria associated with marine animals-specifically invertebrates, including shellfish, both mollusks and crustaceans. One of the studies compared microorganisms associated with marine animals from the Rongelap and Eniwetok atolls after the atomic bomb tests. It was a fascinating study because it demonstrated concentration of radioactive elements by microorganisms, work that was confirmed by other investigators in later years and that has relevance for bioremediation in today's society—that is, microorganisms can be used to concentrate and remove radioactive elements from radioactive wastes. The author's interest in marine microbiology expanded to a curiosity about the genetics of marine microorganisms. The initial work demonstrated the presence of plasmids in marine bacteria, especially those bacteria found in harbors and coastal areas into which effluent from sewage treatment plants and industry was discharged. A major limitation to research in microbial ecology has been the inability to isolate, grow, and culture the vast majority of bacteria that are present in the environment. Researchers reported that selected human pathogens, such as Vibrio cholerae, lost the ability to grow on laboratory media after incubation in oligotrophic ocean water or in seawater microcosms in the laboratory for short periods of time (less than one day to three weeks), although cell numbers, by direct microscopic counts, changed little.