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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs