News / Science & Technology

Marine Algae Sense Rainbow Colors

MBARI Scientists aboard Research Vessel Western Flyer shown recovering a water sampling device in the North Pacific Ocean, which is used to collect algae.  (photo credit: Adam Monier)
MBARI Scientists aboard Research Vessel Western Flyer shown recovering a water sampling device in the North Pacific Ocean, which is used to collect algae. (photo credit: Adam Monier)
Rosanne Skirble
Marine algae can detect a rainbow of light across the color spectrum, not just the blues and greens that penetrate ocean depths, according to a new study.

At Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, Alexandra Worden and her colleagues sequenced the genetic makeup of 20 common marine algae, or phytoplankton, tiny marine plants that absorb carbon dioxide and are a vital food source in the ocean.

“We know that in these organisms about half of their genes have no known function, but of course, they are doing something,” she said.

Worden’s laboratory is trying to understand the function of those unknown genes, which may, she says, “reveal to us secrets about the sea, things we didn’t know we should be thinking about - chemicals or interactions with other organisms - that these genes are built to respond to, but we never knew we should be measuring.”

Detecting red

Like plants that live on land, phytoplankton also require light to grow and survive, and Worden was surprised to find genes in the marine microorganisms that detect many wavelengths of light - responding to a rainbow of colors, including red. She says the algae turn that light into a biological signal.
A tiny eukaryotic alga (the scale bar below is about 1 micron) related to those in the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute study. (Photo by Kurt Buck, MBARI)A tiny eukaryotic alga (the scale bar below is about 1 micron) related to those in the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute study. (Photo by Kurt Buck, MBARI)
"[It tells] the cell to change, for instance, how the cell is growing or what genes are on and respond to this light cue in the environment,” she said.

Land plants have the same genes, which make them turn their leaves toward the sun, or grow taller to reach above neighboring plants that may be shading them. Worden suspects the gene in the single-celled marine algae may work in similar ways.

“It can’t be that they are using it to elongate a stem because they don’t have a stem," she said. "So they must be using it to detect that light and using it to reprogram their genes, but in response to maybe to where they are in the water column, something to do with depth in the water column for example.”

Adapting to ocean depth

And, as the planet warms, where these marine species live in that water column may affect how this master regulator gene functions.

LISTEN: Marine Algae Sense Rainbow Colors
Marine Algae Sense Rainbow Colorsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“Warm water doesn’t mix as well with the lower water that has all the nutrients," she said. "And so if they developed to detect a wavelength that is present at 30 meters in the water column, but now they have to live at 10 meters due to these changes in the ocean structure, what is that going to mean? Will they be able to use this protein to reprogram their cellular activities at that time?”

Worden says the mechanism, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds an important new parameter to assess the ecology of the ocean.

“Normally we go and measure nitrogen or we go and measure phosphate, the same kinds of fertilizers we put in plants," she said."Those are the things we measure in the ocean and say, ‘Oh, there is low nitrogen, maybe it is hard for them to grow right now.' Well, now we know we actually also have to be very sensitive, not just to how much light, but to the wavelengths of light that are available.”

Worden says what her lab is learning about algae could also help with food production by introducing new ways to engineer crops to grow in many light conditions.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid