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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid