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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs