As a first year graduate student, Dr. Colleen Cavanaugh predicted and discovered chemosynthetic bacteria living in giant tubeworms found at deep-sea vents. Using a combination of electron microscopy and biochemistry, Cavanaugh showed that the bacteria metabolized sulfur and generated chemical energy for the mouthless and gutless worms. In turn, the worms provide the bacteria with an environment rich in both hydrogen sulfide and oxygen for energy production and CO2 fixation. Cavanaugh went on to discover similar chemosynthetic symbioses in coastal bivalves and numerous other marine invertebrates.
Colleen Cavanaugh is the Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology, in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and the Co-Director of the Microbial Sciences Initiative at Harvard University. Cavanaugh’s lab studies the symbiotic partnerships between bacteria and marine invertebrates, including those found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, methane seeps and in coastal sediments. Cavanaugh has… Continue Reading