COOL Classroom 2.1

Discover Measuring Marine Microbes Using Enzymes

Advantages of the MEA

The MEA prepares for its initial deployment 3 miles offshore of Tuckerton, NJ. It currently sits in 40 feet of water collecting marine bacteria enzyme data. Connected to land by an undersea cable, it continuously sends data back to land to be reviewed by researchers.

One cool thing about this instrument is that it indirectly helps to monitor if nutrient levels are becoming too high in our coastal waters. This device measures the specific types of enzymes bacteria produce to break down organic molecules. More importantly, the MEA will also measure the overall activity of the enzymes present in the water. By looking at changes in the enzyme activity, scientists can then determine if there are lots of nutrients available for the bacteria. The more nutrients available, the more bacteria can live there, which is good. However, if there amount of nutrients is too high and there are too many bacteria, it can become dangerous to the ecosystem. Bacteria, like you and me, breathe oxygen, SO the more bacteria the less oxygen available. Without oxygen many organisms will die.

Living Room Science?

The REALLY cool thing about this instrument is its ability to record data on its own for weeks at a time. In the past, researchers would have to take a similar type of instrument aboard a ship, collect water from the side of the ship, add special solutions to each sample, let it sit for a while, take a measurement, record the data, and then move on to the next location. This method of obtaining data was slow and tedious, really pricey, and believe it or not many oceanographers got seasick doing it!


With the development of the MEA that long process may no longer be necessary. The MEA has high tech gadgetry so that it can be placed at a site, attached to a power source and a tube that will continuously bring in seawater, and it will record the enzyme activity and transmit the collected information back to scientists on land. This is called real-time data. In the future, instead of going to sea, marine microbiologists might sit at home and watch their data flow into their home computer while a machine like the MEA does all the work! Why do you think this would be an advantage for scientists?

Test your knowledge!

Take a quiz on measuring enzymes.