CGCS Directory

Prof. Penny Chisholm

Institute Professor



Biographical Statement:
Penny Chisholm holds a joint faculty appointment in the Department of Biology and Civil and Environmental Engineering. She recently served as Director of the MIT Earth System Initiative, and was formerly Director of the MIT/Woods Hole Joint Program in Oceanography and Oceanographic Engineering. She is a key participant of The Darwin Project. The general goal of Professor Chisholm's research is to advance our understanding of microbial ecology and evolution in the oceans. In recent years her lab group has focused attention on a single group, the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, which is the smallest and most abundant microbe in ocean ecosystems — sometimes accounting for half of the total chlorophyll. They investigate this creature, which can convert CO2, sunlight, and inorganic nutrients into a living cell with as few as 1700 genes, as a model system to study marine microbial ecology at all levels of organization — from the genome level to the whole ocean. Prof. Chisholm's approach to this problem involves both laboratory and field studies, as well as modeling, and the use of tools of genomics and systems biology.

Selected Publications:
Malmstrom, R.R., S. Rodrigue, K.H. Huang, L. Kelly, S.E. Kern, A. Thompson, S. Roggensack, P.M. Berube, M.R. Henn and S.W. Chisholm, 2013: Ecology of uncultured Prochlorococcus clades revealed through single-cell genomics and biogeographic analysis, The ISME Journal, 7(1): 184-98

Strong, A.L., J.J. Cullen and S.W. Chisholm, 2009: Ocean fertilization: Science, policy, and commerce, Oceanography, 22(3): 236-261

Frias-Lopez, J.Y. Shi, G.W. Tyson, M.L. Coleman, S.C. Schuster, S.W. Chisholm and E.F. DeLong, 2008: Microbial community gene expression in ocean surface waters, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(10): 3805–3810

Coleman, M.L., and S.W. Chisholm, 2007: Code and Context: Prochlorococcus as a model for cross-scale biology, Trends in Microbiology, 15(9): 398-407

Lindell, D., J.D. Jaffe, M.l. Coleman, I.M. Axmann, T. Rector, G. Kettler, M.B. Sullivan, R. Steen, W.R. Hess, G.M. Church and S. W. Chisholm, 2007: Genome-wide expression dynamics of a marine virus and host reveal features of coevolution, Nature, 449(7158): 83-86

Follows, M.J., S. Dutkiewicz, S. Grant and S.W. Chisholm, 2007: Emergent biogeography of microbial communities in a model ocean, Science, 315: 1843-1846

Shaw, S.L., S.W. Chisholm and R.G. Prinn, 2003: Isoprene production by Prochlorococcus, a marine cyanobacterium, and other phytoplankton, Limnology and Oceanography, 80: 227-245

Chisholm, S.W., P.G. Falkowski and J.J. Cullen, 2001: Dis-crediting ocean fertilization, Science, 294(5541): 309-310

Cavender-Bares, K.K., D.M. Karl and S.W. Chisholm, 2001:Nutrient gradients in the western North Atlantic Ocean: Relationship to microbial community structure and comparison to patterns in the Pacific Ocean, Deep Sea Research Part I, 48(11): 2373-2395

Chisholm, S.W., 2000: Stirring times in the Southern Ocean, Nature (News and Views), 407: 685-687

Mann, E.L. and S.W. Chisholm, 2000: Iron limits the cell division rate of Prochlorococcus in the eastern equatorial Pacific, Limnology and Oceanography, 45(9): 1067-1076

More Publications

Contact Information

t: 617-253-1771


B.A., Biology/Chemistry, Skidmore College, 1969
Ph.D., Biology, State University of New York, Albany, 1974

Courses taught:
Fundamentals of Ecology (1.018J) [Undergraduate]
Introductory Biology (7.014) [Undergraduate]
Aquatic Chemistry and Biology Laboratory [Undergraduate]
Aquatic Ecology [Graduate]
Seminars on topics in Biological Oceanography [Graduate]