Illuminating Plankton


Consuelo Carbonell-Moore has made it her life’s work to document the diversity of one of the ocean’s most abundant life forms: dinoflagellates, a type of plankton. These organisms are no mere bystanders in marine ecosystems. Some produce life-giving oxygen. Others influence the formation of coral reefs. In coastal waters, they can bloom as “red tides” and turn filter-feeding organisms, such as shellfish, toxic.

With a courtesy appointment in Botany and Plant Pathology, the oceanographer uses a scanning electron microscope to capture images of dinoflagellate cells that she and her colleagues have collected in the oceans. She has already described several genera and dozens of new species previously unknown to science. Among her samples currently in process, she says, are up to 100 new species. These two are among the hundreds of dinoflagellate cells that are still undescribed in the scientific literature.


“This is a tremendous amount of new cells that nobody has seen before,” she says. “It will add to our knowledge of biodiversity.”

Carbonell-Moore has used scanning electron microscopes in North America and Europe. “Oregon State’s facility is amazing,” she adds. “For ease of use and the quality of the images, it’s the best.”