May
16
Filed Under (News) by on May 16, 2008

Cancer Killer Found In The Ocean
Marine Biotechnologists Treat Cancer With Mud-loving Ocean Bacteria

ScienceDaily

http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/1107-cancer_killer_found_in_the_

ocean.htm

November 1, 2007 – Biomedicine scientists identified and sequenced the genes of a bacteria called Salinispora tropica. It produces anti-cancer compounds and can be found in ocean sediments off the Bahamas. A product called salinosporamide A has shown promise treating a bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma, as well as solid tumors.

It’s estimated that over 1.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and for more than 500,000 it will be fatal. But now, scientists have found a new weapon against it. The ocean! You run in it … play in it … splash in it … but what’s found at the bottom of it can kill cancer!

“This bacteria makes a really potent anti cancer agent,” Bradley Moore, Ph.D., marine biochemist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Calf., told Ivanhoe.

The bacterium was discovered in 1991, but just recently researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography unlocked the genomic sequence, revealing this bacteria’s cancer fighting potential.

“That’s how new drugs are discovered. We really have to go out there and grow bacteria, look at the genomes,” Dr. Moore said. “What we’ve recently been able to do is take the enzymes out of the cell, put them in a test tube, and then play God and manipulate these enzymes and make new chemistry.”

And make new drugs. “There’s a major search underway for better drugs to treat cancer and one way to find these new medicines is to look to nature,” Paul Jensen, Ph.D., associate research scientist at Scipps Institution of Oceanography, told Ivanhoe.

And unlike most of the drugs used to fight cancer today — this bacterium is not found on land.

“When you look at a globe … there’s more blue than there is land,” said Dr. Moore.

Revealing that our oceans maybe an even more valuable resource than we realize. A clinical trial is already underway. A San Diego pharmaceutical company is using it to treat patients that have a form of bone marrow cancer — and it could soon be tested to treat other cancers.

The American Geophysical Union and The American Society for Microbiology contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
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BACKGROUND: Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have discovered bacteria in mud from the Bahamas with the potential to help fight cancer. Now that the bacteria’s genome has been successfully sequenced, that information is now being used by a pharmaceutical company to treat bone marrow cancer patients.

ABOUT THE BACTERIA: The bacteria known as Salinispora tropica is related to the Streptomyces genus, a land-based group of bacteria considered to be the kinds of antibiotic-producing organisms. First discovered in 1991 in shallow ocean sediment off the Bahamas, it took several years to successfully sequence Salinispora’s genome, revealing that this mud-dwelling bacteria produces natural antibiotics and anti-cancer products. Researchers found that 10% of the bacteria’s genome is dedicated to producing molecules for antibiotics and anti-cancer agents, compared to only 6% to 8% of most organisms’ genomes. The decoding opens the door to a broad range of possibilities for isolating and adapting potent molecules the marine organism naturally employs for chemical defense, scavenging for nutrients, and communication in its ocean environment. One compound, salinosporamide A, is currently in human clinical trials for treating multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow, as well as for treating solid tumors.

SEQUENCING ABCs: Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome: the building blocks that make up an organism’s DNA. The entire genome can’t be sequenced at once because DNA sequencing methods can only handle short stretches of DNA at a time. So scientists break the DNA into small pieces, sequence those, and then reassemble the pieces into the proper order to sequence the entire genome. There are two ways of doing this. The “clone-by-clone” approach involves breaking the genome into chunks, called clones, each about 150,000 base pairs long, then using genome mapping techniques to figure where each belongs in the genome. Next they cut the clones into smaller, overlapping pieces of about 500 base pairs each, sequence those pieces, and use the overlaps to reconstruct the sequence of the entire clone.

An alternative strategy, called the “whole-genome shotgun method,” involves breaking the genome into small pieces, sequencing them, and then reassembling the pieces into the full genome. The clone-by-clone approach is more reliable, but slow and time-consuming. The shotgun method is faster, but it can be extremely difficult to accurately put together so many tiny pieces of sequence all at once Neither of these approaches proved sufficient to completely solve the Salinispora tropica genomic puzzle, however. Instead, information about the natural chemistry of the organism helped close the sequencing gap.

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Diatoms Discovered To Remove Phosphorus From Oceans

ScienceDaily

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080502154252.htm

Georgia Tech researchers found that diatoms naturally remove phosphorus from the oceans. (Credit: Image courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology)ScienceDaily (May 5, 2008) – Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered a new way that phosphorus is naturally removed from the oceans – its stored in diatoms. The discovery
opens up a new realm of research into an element that’s used for reproduction, energy storage and structural materials in every organism.

Its understanding is vital to the continued quest to understand the growth of the oceans. The research appears in the May 2, 2008 edition of the journal Science.

Ellery Ingall, associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, along with Ph.D. student Julia Diaz, collected organisms and sediments along an inlet near Vancouver Island in British Columbia. During their investigation on the boat, Diaz used a traditional optical microscope to discover that diatoms, microscopic organisms that live in oceans and damp surfaces, were storing blobs of very dense concentrations of phosphorus called polyphosphates.

“These polyphosphates have been missed in classic studies because they haven’t been recovered by the typical measurement techniques,” said Ingall. “No one measured or treated the samples because no one knew they were there – they didn’t even think to look for it.”

For a long time, scientists have been unable to account for the difference in the amount of phosphorus that’s in the oceans and the amount that’s washed in from rivers.

“We’re getting the initial clues as to how this phosphorus gets to the bottom of the oceans,” said Diaz. “These diatoms are sinking from the top to the bottom of the ocean, and as they’re sinking, they’re transporting the phosphorus in the form of intracellular polyphosphate.”

After making their initial discovery, the team made another. They went to Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to delve deeper and found that some of the blobs were polyphosphate, some were a mineral known as apatite, and some were a transitional material between the two.

Now that they’ve proved a link between polyphosphate and apatite, they’re next step is to try and capture the chemical transition between the two by running controlled experiments in the lab.

Adapted from materials provided by Georgia Institute of Technology.
Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats:
Georgia Institute of Technology (2008, May 5). Diatoms Discovered To Remove Phosphorus From Oceans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 7, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com-/releases/2008/05/080502154252.htm

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Microwaves ‘cook ballast aliens’
By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News
Full story, graphics and pics at : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7392072.stm

US researchers say they have developed an effective way to kill unwanted plants and animals that hitch a ride in the ballast waters of cargo vessels.

Tests showed that a continuous microwave system was able to remove all marine life within the water tanks.

The UN lists “invasive species” dispersed by ballast water discharges as one of the four main threats to the world’s marine ecosystems.

The findings will appear in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Shipping moves more than 80% of the world’s commodities and transfers up to five billion tonnes of ballast water internationally each year, data from the UN shows.

Vessels, especially large container ships, need ballast tanks to provide stability in the water and correct any shift in the ships’ mass.

When a ship’s cargo is unloaded, it fills with ballast water; when it is later reloaded, often on the other side of the world, the water is discharged.

Co-author Dorin Boldor, from Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center, said the team envisaged the microwave device being fitted to the exit valve of a ballast tank.

It is extremely fast and very efficient at transferring the energy from the microwaves into heat Dr Dorin Boldor, Louisiana State University
“The basic idea is that you take the ballast water and pump it through a microwave cavity.”

He added that the system would follow the same principle as a household microwave oven.

“The power level is much higher and a different frequency, but it creates a very high intensity electric field in the centre of the cavity that oscillates rapidly.

“The water molecules are going to start spinning around very fast and they are going to create a lot of friction that generates heat,” Dr Boldor explained.

“But it generates heat in the whole volume at the same time, unlike if you try to use another heating mechanism where you have to take the heat from somewhere else and conduct it through the liquid.”

This means that the researchers have a high degree of confidence that the system is treating all of the water to remove the unwanted organisms.

“It is extremely fast and very efficient at transferring the energy from the microwaves into heat,” he told BBC News.

Biological stowaways
For thousands of years, marine species have been dispersed throughout the oceans by natural means, such as currents and drifting on debris.

But natural barriers, such as temperature differences and land masses, have limited the range of some species’ dispersal and allowed different marine ecosystems to evolve.

Since the emergence of the modern shipping fleet and growing trade between nations, these natural barriers have been broken down, allowing the introduction of alien species that upset the equilibrium of ecosystems.

The UN-led Global Ballast Water Management Programme (GloBallast) estimates that at least 7,000 species are able to be carried across the globe in ships’ ballast tanks.

While many of these plants and creatures do not survive the journey, some find the new environment favourable enough to establish a reproductive population and go on to undermine native species.

For example, GloBallast says, European zebra mussels ( Dreissena polymorpha ) have infested more than 40% of the US’s inland waterways.

Between 1989 and 2000, up to $1bn (�500m) is estimated to have been spent on controlling the spread of the alien invader.

The arrival of an invasive jellyfish-like organism, Mnemiopsis leidyi , led to a major ecological “regime change” in the Black Sea, which contributed to the collapse of commercial fisheries in the region.

At one stage, the species accounted for about 90% of the sea’s entire biomass. Its appetite for native plankton stocks meant that other fish species were unable to compete and re-establish viable populations.

In February 2004, the international shipping community agreed to establish tougher measures to prevent discharges of ballast water releasing potentially invasive species.

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediment requires all vessels over 400 tonnes to eventually fit systems to treat ballast water.

The team’s development, which was funded by Noaa and engineering firm Laitram LLC, is ideally suited to help commercial operators meet their obligation under this legislation, Dr Boldor explained.

“It will probably work very well for it to be installed on very large ships themselves, but when you are talking about smaller vessels it may be more cost effective to have some sort of barge system based in the ports.

“It can just pull up to the ship, take and treat the ballast water while the ships are waiting to berth at the dock.”

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/7392072.stm

Published: 2008/05/12 09:17:28 GMT
� BBC MMVIII
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Stressed Seaweed Contributes To Cloudy Coastal Skies, Study Suggests
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080506103036.htm

Kelp found close to shore. The presence of large amounts of seaweed in coastal areas can influence the climate. (Credit: iStockphoto/Rik Jones)ScienceDaily (May 7, 2008) – Scientists at The University of Manchester have helped to identify that the presence of large amounts of seaweed in coastal areas can influence the climate.

A new international study has found that large brown seaweeds, when under stress, release large quantities of inorganic iodine into the coastal atmosphere, where it may contribute to cloud formation.

A scientific paper published online May 6 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) identifies that iodine is stored in the form of iodide — single, negatively charged ions.

When this iodide is released it acts as the first known inorganic — and the most simple — antioxidant in any living system.

“When kelp experience stress, for example when they are exposed to intense light, desiccation or atmospheric ozone during low tides, they very quickly begin to release large quantities of iodide from stores inside the tissues,” explains lead author, Dr Frithjof K?from the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

“These ions detoxify ozone and other oxidants that could otherwise damage kelp, and, in the process, produce molecular iodine.

“Our new data provide a biological explanation why we can measure large amounts of iodine oxide and volatile halocarbons in the atmosphere above kelp beds and forests. These chemicals act as condensation nuclei around which clouds may form.”

The paper’s co-author, Dr Gordon McFiggans, an atmospheric scientist from The University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (SEAES) said: “The findings are applicable to any coastal areas where there are extensive kelp beds. In the UK, these are typically place like the Hebrides, Robin Hood’s Bay and Anglesey. The kelps need rocky intertidal zones to prosper – sandy beaches aren’t very good.

“The increase in the number of cloud condensation nuclei may lead to ‘thicker’ clouds. These are optically brighter, reflecting more sunlight upwards and allowing less to reach the ground, and last for longer. In such a cloud there are a higher number of small cloud droplets and rainfall is suppressed, compared with clouds of fewer larger droplets.

“The increase in cloud condensation nuclei by kelps could lead to more extensive, longer lasting cloud cover in the coastal region — a much moodier, typically British coastal skyline.”

The research team also found that large amounts of iodide are released from kelp tissues into sea water as a consequence to the oxidative stress during a defence response against pathogen attack. They say kelps therefore play an important role in the global biogeochemical cycle of iodine and in the removal of ozone close to the Earth’s surface.

This interdisciplinary and international study — with contributions from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the USA — comes almost 200 years after the discovery of iodine as a novel element — in kelp ashes.

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University of Manchester (2008, May 7). Stressed Seaweed Contributes To Cloudy Coastal Skies, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 12, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com? /releases/2008/05/080506103036.htm
 

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Surviving the Ocean Acid Test

By Phil Berardelli
ScienceNOW Daily News
17 April 2008

For graphics :
<http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/417/2>

Despite dire warnings about the dangers of carbon dioxide (C02) buildup in Earth’s atmosphere, the phenomenon may harm some residents of the ocean less than others. Researchers have found that one species of plankton seems to thrive on ocean changes due to increased CO2 content.
The study serves as a reminder that nature can be more adaptive and resilient than expected when facing environmental challenges–although
what those adaptations will mean for marine ecosystems remains an open question.
The buildup of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, which leads to global warming, has marine scientists just as worried as terrestrial specialists. That’s because the seas eventually will absorb up to one-third of that CO2, resulting in a drop in pH levels and ocean acidification. An increase in the acidity interferes with the ability of certain marine creatures to synthesize calcium carbonate, which they need to form shells (ScienceNOW, 18 February).

Some ocean creatures fare better than others in an increasingly acidic bath. An international team of biologists has found a species of microscopic plankton that seems to have shrugged off acidification and whose population has been thriving through the entire industrial age.
The phytoplankton, Emiliania huxleyi, is one of the foundations of the ocean food chain.

E. huxleyi just can’t seem to get enough CO2. In lab experiments, the team, led by biological oceanographer M. Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez of
the University of Southampton in the U.K., piped in bubbles of CO2.
Starting with pre-industrial levels, they ramped up the concentrations to double the current average for seawater. The researchers had expected that the increased acidity would put a damper on E. huxleyi, but the tiny creatures took it in stride. They actually boosted their rate of reproduction, the team reports in the 18 April issue of Science. “I was
surprised,” Iglesias-Rodriguez says. In fact, the E. huxleyi cells in the wild have probably increased their mass by 40% over the past 200 years, the team estimates.

The remaining question, Iglesias-Rodriguez says, is whether E. huxleyi could act as a sink for excess carbon in the oceans. On the one hand, the plankton engage in photosynthesis, consuming CO2 in the process. On the other, when they make their shells of calcium carbonate, they also release CO2. Based on the team’s experiments that replicate CO2 conditions, she doubts the plankton will tip the balance.

Other experiments with E. huxleyi have not seen increased calcification, notes chemical oceanographer Richard Feely of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, so it might be that the plankton species has varieties that react differently to increased acidity. Or perhaps factors such as the nutrient or iron content of the water play a part, he says. Marine biogeographer John Guinotte of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Washington, says that the study represents “good news and a rarity in the often sobering discussions” about the challenges to marine organisms by ocean acidification. “Nature is full of surprises,” he adds.

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Acidic oceans may be water of life for plankton
11:30 18 April 2008
NewScientist.com news service

Kate Ravilious
<http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn13735-acidic-oceans-may-be-water-of-life-for-plankton.html?feedId=earth_rss20>

Most life in the ocean will suffer as carbon dioxide levels increase and the water becomes more acidic. Some plankton will buck the trend, however, thriving and putting on weight as carbon dioxide levels rise – but it remains to be seen how this will affect the global carbon balance.

D颯ra Iglesias-Rodr�br>guez, from the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, UK, and her colleagues, simulated the increase in dissolved carbon dioxide in surface ocean waters by bubbling carbon dioxide through cultures of coccolithophores, a type of single-celled photosynthesising plankton.

In previous experiments water acidity had been regulated by simply adding acid or base, but this method has been criticised for being too artificial. Iglesias-Rodr�br>guez’s method found that higher carbon dioxide concentrations increased calcification, speeding up growth of the tiny calcite plates on the plankton cell.

Carbon storage
Coccolithophores appear to benefit in two ways. The extra carbon dioxide aids photosynthesis, while the more acidic waters increase the concentration of bicarbonate – the main ingredient for coccolith plates, known as liths. Making the liths results in the release of carbon dioxide, but when dead plankton fall to the ocean floor the carbon in the shells is locked away in deep ocean chalk deposits.

“Increased bicarbonate appears to stimulate an increase in mass of calcium carbonate produced by each coccolithophore cell,” says Paul Halloran, a co-author from the University of Oxford.

The team’s result is not confined to the lab. By studying fossil coccolithophores from a deep ocean core, they found that there has been a 40% increase in average coccolith mass over the last 220 years, mirroring the rise in carbon dioxide levels.

Other scientists think the results make sense and help to explain how coccolithophores survived the last rapid global warming event – the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum 56 million years ago.

Cocco and insensitive
“Coccolithophores seemed to sail through the surface water acidification then, so perhaps they are quite insensitive to this kind of change,” says Paul Bown from University College London.

As yet it isn’t clear how these super-sized coccolithophores will affect the global carbon balance. If the oceans become too acidic, the shells of dead plankton will dissolve and release their carbon before they fall to the ocean floor.

“We can’t yet be confident that stimulating plankton production will draw down carbon dioxide,” says Bown.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1154122

Related Articles
Ocean acidification: the other CO2 problem
http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg19125631.200

05 August 2006
Sea life in peril as oceans turn acid
http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg18725074.300
09 July 2005
Marine crisis looms over acidifying oceans
http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn7609
30 June 2005
Coral may grow with global warming
http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg18424774.300
11 December 2004
Weblinks
National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton
http://www.soc.soton.ac.uk/
University of Oxford
http://www.ox.ac.uk/
Coccolithophore, Earth Observatory, NASA
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/Coccolithophores/

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Phytoplankton responding to climate change

Published online 17 April 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.760

But the ocean organisms may not remove more carbon dioxide from the air.

Rachel Courtland

The microscopic marine organisms called coccolithophores, one of nature’s most prolific consumers of atmospheric carbon dioxide, may
continue to absorb carbon at today’s rates – even as greenhouse-gas concentrations continue to rise.

Coccolithophores are phytoplankton that live in the upper layers of the world’s oceans.

Details at :
http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080417/full/news.2008.760.html     Team

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Probes mysteries of oceanic bacteria
March 04, 2008

Wee creatures are key to Earth’s environment

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–Microbes living in the oceans play a critical role in regulating Earth’s environment, but very little is known about their activities and how they work together to help control natural cycles of water, carbon and energy. A team of MIT researchers led by Professors Edward DeLong and Penny Chisholm is trying to change that.

Borrowing gene sequencing tools developed for sequencing the human genome, the researchers have devised a new method to analyze gene expression in complex microbial populations. The work could help scientists better understand how oceans respond to climate change.

“This project can help us get a better handle on the specific details of how microbes affect the flux of energy and matter on Earth, and how
microbes respond to environmental change,” said DeLong, a professor of biological engineering and civil and environmental engineering.

“The new approach also has other potential applications, for example, one can now realistically consider using indigenous microbes as in situ biosensors, as well as monitor the activities of human-associated microbial communities much more comprehensively, ” DeLong said.

Their technique, which has already yielded a few surprising discoveries, is reported in the March 3 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The work was facilitated by the Center for Microbial Oceanography:
Research and Education (C-MORE), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center established in 2006 to explore microbial ocean life, most of which is not well understood.

The traditional way to study bacteria is to grow them in Petri dishes in a laboratory, but that yields limited information, and not all strains
are suited to life in the lab. “The cast of characters we can grow in the lab is a really small percentage of what’s out there,” said DeLong,
who is research coordinator for C-MORE.

The MIT team gathers microbe samples from the waters off Hawaii, in a part of the ocean known as the North Pacific Gyre.

Each liter of ocean water they collect contains up to a billion bacterial cells. For several years, researchers have been sequencing the DNA found in those bacteria, creating large databases of prevalent marine microbial genes found in the environment.

However, those DNA sequences alone cannot reveal which genes the bacteria are actually using in their day-to-day activities, or when they are expressing them.

“It’s a lot of information, and it’s hard to know where to start,” said DeLong. “How do you know which genes are actually important in any given environmental context?”

To figure out which genes are expressed, DeLong and colleagues sequenced the messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by the cells living in complex microbial communities. mRNA carries instructions to the protein-building machinery of the cell, so if there is a lot of mRNA corresponding to a particular gene, it means that gene is highly expressed.

The new technique requires the researchers to convert bacterial mRNA to eukaryotic (non-bacterial) DNA, which can be more easily amplified and sequenced. They then use sequencing technology that is fast enough to analyze hundreds of millions of DNA base pairs in a day.

Once the sequences of highly expressed mRNA are known, the researchers can compare them with DNA sequences in the database of bacterial genes and try to figure out which genes are key players and what their functions are.

The team found some surprising patterns of gene expression, DeLong said. For example, about half of the mRNA sequences found are not similar to any previously known bacterial genes.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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From: DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
Published April 2, 2008 09:06 AM
Algae Could One Day Be Major Hydrogen Fuel Source

http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/33997

Scientists at U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are answering that call by working to chemically manipulate algae for production of the next generation of renewable fuels – hydrogen gas.

“We believe there is a fundamental advantage in looking at the production of hydrogen by photosynthesis as a renewable fuel,”? senior chemist David Tiede said. “Right now, ethanol is being produced from corn, but generating ethanol from corn is a thermodynamically much more inefficient process.”?

Some varieties of algae, a kind of unicellular plant, contain an enzyme called hydrogenase that can create small amounts of hydrogen gas. Tiede said many believe this is used by Nature as a way to get rid of excess reducing equivalents that are produced under high light conditions, but there is little benefit to the plant.

Tiede and his group are trying to find a way to take the part of the enzyme that creates the gas and introduce it into the photosynthesis process.

The result would be a large amount of hydrogen gas, possibly on par with the amount of oxygen created.

“Biology can do it, but it’s making it do it at 5-10 percent yield that’s the problem,”? Tiede said. “What we would like to do is take that catalyst out of hydrogenase and put into the photosynthetic protein framework. We are fortunate to have Professor Thomas Rauchfuss as a collaborator from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana who is an expert on the synthesis of hydrogenase active site mimics.”?

Algae has several benefits over corn in fuel production. It can be grown in a closed system almost anywhere including deserts or even rooftops, and there is no competition for food or fertile soil. Algae is also easier to harvest because it has no roots or fruit and grows dispersed in water.

“If you have terrestrial plants like corn, you are restricted to where you could grow them,”? Tiede said. “There is a problem now with biofuel crops competing with food crops because they are both using the same space. Algae provides an alternative, which can be grown in a closed photobioreactor analogous to a microbial fermentor that you could move any place.”?

Tiede admitted the research is its beginning phases, but he is confident in his team and their research goals. The next step is to create a way to attach the catalytic enzyme to the molecule.

Funding for the research was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

2007. Copyright Environmental News Network

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Some Of Our Oxygen Is Produced By Viruses Infecting Micro-organisms In The Oceans

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401200449.htm

(Apr. 6, 2008) – Some of the oxygen we breathe today is being produced because of viruses infecting micro-organisms in the world’s oceans, scientists heard April 2, 2008 at the Society for General Microbiology’s 162nd meeting.

About half the world’s oxygen is being produced by tiny photosynthesising creatures called phytoplankton in the major oceans.
These organisms are also responsible for removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and locking it away in their bodies, which sink to the bottom of the ocean when they die, removing it forever and limiting global warming.

“In major parts of the oceans, the micro-organisms responsible for providing oxygen and locking away carbon dioxide are actually single
celled bacteria called cyanobacteria,” says Professor Nicholas Mann of the University of Warwick. “These organisms, which are so important for making our planet inhabitable, are attacked and infected by a range of different types of viruses.”

The researchers have identified the genetic codes of these viruses using molecular techniques and discovered that some of them are responsible for providing the genetic material that codes for key components of photosynthesis machinery.

“It is beginning to become to clear to us that at least a proportion of the oxygen we breathe is a by-product of the bacteria suffering from a virus infection,” says Professor Mann. “Instead of being viewed solely as evolutionary bad guys, causing diseases, viruses appear to be of central importance in the planetary process. In fact they may be essential to our survival.”

Viruses may also help to spread useful genes for photosynthesis from one strain of bacteria to another.

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Oceans Absorbing Less CO2 May Have 1,500 Year Impact
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Source :
http://www.planetark.com/avantgo/dailynewsstory.cfm?newsid=48010

VIENNA – Global oceans are soaking up less carbon dioxide, a development that could speed up the greenhouse effect and have an impact for the next 1,500 years, scientists said on Wednesday.

Research from a five-year project funded by the European Union showed the North Atlantic, which along with the Antarctic is of the world’s two vital ocean carbon sinks, is absorbing only half the amount of CO2 that it did in the mid-1990s.

Using recent detailed data, scientists said the amount absorbed is also fluctuating each year, making it hard to predict how and whether the trend will continue and if oceans will be able to perform their vital balancing act in the future.

Oceans soak up around a quarter of annual CO2 emissions, but should they fail to do so in the future the gas would stay in the atmosphere and could accelerate the greenhouse effect, a prospect project director Christoph Heinze called “alarming”.

Oceans are like a “slow-mixing machine”. Carbon absorbed in the North Atlantic takes around 1,500 years to circulate around the world’s seas. This means changes to their fragile balance could be felt long into the future, Heinze said at a geoscience conference in Vienna.

Scientists are still debating the reasons why oceans are absorbing less carbon dioxide. While some point to CO2 saturation, others say it could be caused by a change in surface water circulation, triggered by changes in weather cycles.

Heinze described a “bottleneck effect” because of the large amount of manmade carbon dioxide oceans already store.

“The more CO2 the oceans store, the more difficult it will be for them to take up the additional load from the atmosphere and carbon absorption will stagnate even further,” Heinze said.

Some forms of sea life have suffered from the large amounts of CO2 absorbed, because of changes in acidity levels.

“The seafloor is becoming an increasingly hostile environment,” said Marion Gehlen, from the Laboratory of Climate and Environment Science in France.

“This corrosive water means mollusc organisms have a hard time making their shells and eventually they might not be able to do it at all.”

For the scientists there is only one thing humans can do to resolve the problem — reduce emissions by at least 75 percent.

“We must act now. The good news is that while the negative effects can last a long time, the good things we do will also have an effect for the next 1,500 years,” Heinze said.

“It’s cheap and it’s possible to do this but people must have the will to do it.”

Story by Sylvia Westall
Story Date: 17/4/2008

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Marine Bacteria’s Mealtime Dash Is A Swimming Success

With graphics
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080310181559.htm

This image shows P. haloplanktis aggregating in a plume of nutrients in a microfluidics device that creates a microcosm of the bacteria’ natural home in the ocean. (Credit: Roman Stocker/MIT) ScienceDaily (Mar. 14, 2008) – Goldfish in an aquarium are able to dash after food flakes at mealtime, reaching them before they sink or are eaten by other fish.
Researchers at MIT recently proved that marine bacteria, the smallest creatures in the ocean, behave in a similar fashion at mealtime, using their swimming skills to reach tiny food patches that appear randomly in the ocean blue.

The behavior of bacteria at these small scales could have global implications, possibly even impacting the oceans’ health during climate change.

Scientists in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering demonstrated for the first time in lab experiments that the 2-micron-long, rod-shaped marine bacterium P. haloplanktis is able to locate and exploit nutrient patches extremely rapidly, thanks to its
keen swimming abilities.

Food sources for these microorganisms come as dissolved nutrients and often appear as localized patches that, if not eaten, are rapidly dissipated by physical processes like diffusion. Foraging, then, becomes a race against time for a bacterium. A rapid response gives it a strong advantage over competitors and may allow it to take up nutrients before they undergo chemical changes. A paper scheduled to publish in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online Early Edition the week of March 10 describes the research.

“Our experiments have shown that marine bacteria are able to home in very rapidly on short-lived nutrient patches in the ocean,” said Roman Stocker, the Doherty Assistant Professor of Ocean Utilization and lead author on the paper. “This suggests that P. haloplanktis’ performance is finely tuned to the oceanic nutrient landscape. If you are a bacterium, the ocean looks like a desert to you, where food mostly comes in small patches that are rare and ephemeral. When you encounter one, you want to use it rapidly.”

Co-authors on the paper are postdoctoral associate Justin Seymour, graduate student Dana Hunt and Associate Professor Martin Polz all of MIT, and Assistant Professor Azadeh Samadani of Brandeis University.

The researchers were able to prove the behavior of P. haloplanktis by recreating a microcosm of the bacteria’s ocean environment using new technology called microfluidics. Microfluidics consists of patterns of minute channels engraved in a clear rubbery material and sealed with a glass slide. The researchers injected bacteria and nutrients into the microchannels at specific locations and, using video-microscopy, recorded the bacteria as they foraged on two simulated food sources: a lysing algal cell that creates a sudden explosion of dissolved nutrients, and the small nutrient plume trailing behind particles that sink in the ocean.

The question of whether the bacteria could or couldn’t put their swimming skills to use in this race against time has generated considerable interest in the scientific community over the past decade, because there’s a great deal riding on P. haloplanktis’ and their relatives’ ability to reach these nutrients and recycle them for other animals in the food web.

Scientists who study Earth’s carbon cycle know that accounting for all the organic matter in the marine food web is critical, including the matter that exists in these tiny, discrete nutrient patches bacteria feed on. In fact, the carbon in those patches is so important that some
scientists believe marine bacteria’s capacity to utilize it will determine whether the oceans become a carbon sink or source during global warming.

Until 25 years ago, scientists weren’t really aware of the microbial loop, the processing of organic material among the smallest creatures in the ocean: bacteria, phytoplankton, nanozooplankton, viruses, etc. Now they know that the roughly 1 million bacteria per milliliter of ocean play a pivotal role in the microbial loop; by recycling that organic matter, they pass it on to larger animals and prevent it from dropping out of the marine food web.

But quantifying the importance of bacteria in the microbial loop has been difficult, because creating a realistic microenvironment wasn’t possible until recently.

“You can hope to study an organism’s behavior only in the context of its environment. The habitat of a bacterium, on the other hand, is extremely small, on the order of microns to millimeters,” said Stocker. “This has made the study of microbial behavior a formidable technical challenge to date. We have been able to create realistic environmental landscapes for studying marine bacteria in the lab by using microfluidic technology.”

P. haloplanktis is a rapid swimmer, propelling itself by a single rotating flagellum in bursts of speed up to 500 body lengths per second.
(The fastest land animal, the cheetah, travels at bursts of speed up to 30 body lengths per second.) During experiments, Stocker and team observed that the bacteria used their rapid motility to very effectively
swim toward and follow their food sources. That directed movement in response to a chemical gradient (in this case, nutrients) is known as chemotaxis.

“It will be important to see how widespread the use of rapid chemotaxis is in the ocean,” said Stocker. “We expect this to depend on the environment; in algal blooms, for example, nutrient patches and plumes will be abundant, and speedy bacteria will be favored. Whenever this is the case, nutrients get recycled much more rapidly, making the food web more productive and potentially affecting the rates at which carbon is cycled in the ocean.”

Adapted from materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

——————————-end———————————-

Apr
16

There are many ways you can use an edublog in your teaching, here are ten to get you started:

1. Post materials and resources. The web is a fantastic tool when it comes to distributing resources – all you have to do on your Edublog is upload, or copy and paste, your materials to your blog and they’ll be instantly accessible by your student from school and from home. What’s more, you can easily manage who gets to access them through password and plugin safety measures.

2. Host online discussions. If you’ve ever struggled to create an online discussion space – you’re going to love what edublogs will do for you. Students can simply respond to blog posts and discuss topics you’ve set them through comments of through our simple forum functionality – commentators can also sign up to receive emails when their comments are replied to and you can easily manage and edit all responses through your blog’s administrative panel.

3. Create a class publication. Do you remember the good old days of class newspapers? Well, they just got a lot easier with your Edublog – you can add students as contributors, authors and even editors in order to produce a custom designed, finely tuned and engaging collaborative online publication by your class.

4. Replace your newsletter. Always enjoyed photocopying and stapling pages and pages of newsletters on a Friday afternoon? Though not! It’s ridiculously simple to post class information, news, events and more on your edublog.

5. Get your students blogging. It’s all very good sending your students off to blog sites, or even creating them for them, but you need to operate as a hub for their work and a place where they can easily visit each others blogs from. Your Edublog can be used to glue together your students blogs, and besides which, if you’re asking your students to blog… you should certainly be doing it yourself.

6. Share your lesson plans. We all love planning and admin, right? Well, using an Edublog can turn planning and reflection on classes into a genuinely productive – and even collaborative – experience. Sharing your plans, your reflections, your ideas and your fears with other educators both at your school and around the world using an edublog is a great way to develop as a teacher, and a brilliant use of a blog.

7. Integrate multimedia of all descriptions. With a couple of clicks you can embed online video, multimedia presentations, slideshows and more into your edublog and mix it up with your text and static resources. No cds required, no coding necessary – just select the video, podcasts or slidecast you’d like to use and whack it in your blog to illustrate, engage and improve your teaching toolbox.

8. Organise, organise, organise. You don’t only have to use your edublog as a pedagogue… you can equally easily use the tools to organise everything from sports teams in your school, to rehearsals for the upcoming production. You can set up as many edublogs as you like, so don’t be afraid to use a dedicated one for a dedicated event – your can even use it as a record to look back on down the line.

9. Get feedback. There’s nothing that says you can’t allow anonymous commenting on a blog (although you’re also entirely within your rights to put all comments through moderation!) but why not think about using a blog as a place for students – and even parents, to air issues, leave feedback or generally tell you how great you are.

10. Create a fully functional website. One of the great things about Edublogs are that they are much, much more than just blogging tools. In fact, you can use your edublog to create a multi-layered, in-depth, multimedia rich website – that hardly looks like a blog at all. So, if you’d rather create a set of static content, archive of important information or even index for your library – you can bend an Edublog to suit your needs.

Copyright ©2008 Edublogs

Apr
01
Filed Under (News) by on April 1, 2008

Startling Discovery About Photosynthesis: Many Marine Microorganism Skip Carbon Dioxide And Oxygen Step

Fro graphics and related links
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311131851.htm

Sausage-shaped cells are unicellular cyanobacteria (Synechococcus) and filaments are green nonsulfur bacteria. (Credit: Richard W. Castenholz, University of Oregon) ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2008) – A startling
discovery by scientists at the Carnegie Institution puts a new twist on photosynthesis, arguably the most important biological process on Earth.
Photosynthesis by plants, algae, and some bacteria supports nearly all living things by producing food from sunlight, and in the process these organisms release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.

But two studies by Arthur Grossman and colleagues*+ reported in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta and Limnology and Oceanography suggest that certain marine microorganisms have evolved a way to break the rules–they get a significant proportion of their energy without a net release of oxygen or uptake of carbon dioxide. This discovery impacts not only scientists’ basic understanding of photosynthesis, but
importantly, it may also impact how microorganisms in the oceans affect rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Grossman’s team investigated photosynthesis in a marine Synechococcus, a form of photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria (formerly blue-green algae). These single-celled organisms dominate phytoplankton populations over much of the world’s oceans and are important contributors to global primary productivity. Grossman and his colleagues wanted to understand how Synechococcus could thrive in the iron-poor waters that cover large areas of the ocean, since certain activities of normal photosynthesis require high levels of iron. While others had suggested a potential role of oxygen as accepting electrons from the photosynthetic apparatus in place of carbon dioxide, the studies by Grossman’s group show that this activity is significant in the oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) oceans, which cover about half the ocean’s area.

“It seems that Synechococcus in the oligotrophic oceans has solved the iron problem, at least in part, by short-circuiting the standard photosynthetic process,” says Grossman. “Much of the time this organism
bypasses stages in photosynthesis that require the most iron. As it turns out, these are also the stages in which carbon dioxide is taken from the atmosphere.”

“We realized very quickly that there was something different about the Synechococcus that we were studying” says Shaun Bailey, the lead postdoctoral fellow working on this project. “The uptake of carbon
dioxide and the photosynthetic activities didn’t match, so we knew that something other than carbon dioxide was being consumed by photosynthesis, and it turned out to be oxygen.” The researchers have tentatively identified the enzyme involved in this process to be
plastoquinol terminal oxidase, or PTOX. They point out that this new process must be considered in understanding the net primary productivity
attributed to open ocean ecosystems.

During normal photosynthesis, light energy splits water molecules. This releases oxygen and provides electrons which are then used to “fix” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and manufacture energy-rich molecules, such as sugars. In the newly discovered process, a large proportion of these electrons are not used to fix carbon dioxide, but instead go to putting the water molecules back together, which results in much less net oxygen production.

“It might seem like the cells are just doing a futile light-driven water-to-water cycle,” says Bailey. “But this is not really true since this novel cycle is also a way of using sunlight to produce energy, while protecting the photosynthetic apparatus from damage that can be caused by the absorption of light.”

Capturing energy by a light-driven water-to-water cycle is critical since marine cyanobacteria are constantly using energy to acquire the meager supply of nutrients in their environment. Recently, this newly discovered phenomenon was shown to occur in nature by graduate student Kate Mackey, who made direct measurements of photosynthesis in field samples from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

“The low nutrient, low iron environments account for about half of the area of the world’s oceans, so they represent a large portion of the Earth’s surface available for photosynthesis,” says Mackey. “Our
findings show that this novel cycle occurs in two major ocean basins and suggest that a substantial amount of energy from sunlight gets re-routed away from carbon fixation during photosynthesis. This may mean that less carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere by the open ocean photosynthetic organisms than was previously believed.”

“This discovery represents a paradigm shift in our view of photosynthesis by organisms in the vast, nutrient-starved areas of the open ocean”, says Joe Berry of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. “We had assumed that like higher plants, the goal was to make carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and store them for later use as a source of energy for any number of cellular functions or growth. We now know that some organisms short-circuit this complicated process, using light in a minimalist way to power cellular processes directly with a far simpler and cheaper (in terms of scarce nutrients such as iron)
photosynthetic apparatus. We don’t know the full significance of this finding yet, but it is certain to change the way we interpret optical measurements of photosynthetic pigments in the ocean and the way we
model ocean productivity.”

Wolf Frommer, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology, agrees about the discovery’s ground-breaking importance. “If we thought we have understood photosynthesis, this study proves that there is much to be learned about these basic physiological processes. The findings of Grossman’s laboratory together with previous evidence reported by Greg Vanlerberghe from the University of Toronto showing that the gene encoding PTOX appears to be widespread in marine cyanobacteria will add depth and a mechanistic foundation for the modeling of primary productivity in the ocean.”

*Authors: Shaun Bailey, Anastasios Melis, Katherine RM Mackey, Pierre Cardol, Giovanni Finazzi, Gert van Dijken, Gry M Berg, Kevin R Arrigo, Jeff Shrager, Arthur R Grossman.

+Authors: Katherine RM Mackey, Adina Paytan, Arthur R Grossman and Shaun Bailey

Adapted from materials provided by Carnegie Institution, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

 

 

 

Mar
12
Filed Under (News) by on March 12, 2008

Possible Fix For Global Warming?
Environmental Engineers Use Algae To Capture Carbon Dioxide

April 1, 2007 — Engineers have designed a simple, sustainable and natural carbon sequestration solution using algae. A team at Ohio University created a photo bioreactor that uses photosynthesis to grow algae, passing carbon dioxide over large membranes, placed vertically to save space. The carbon dioxide produced by the algae is harvested by dissolving into the surrounding water. The algae can be harvested and made into biodiesel fuel and feed for animals. A reactor with 1.25 million square meters of algae screens could be up and running by 2010.

Global warming’s effects can be seen worldwide, and many experts believe it’s only going to get worse. In fact, America is by far the largest contributor to global warming than any other country — releasing a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide — the primary cause of global warming. But now engineers have found a natural way to eliminate one of the worst contributors to our environment’s decay.

What’s coming from power plants, traffic jams and industrial smog is causing our ozone to disappear, ice caps to melt, and temperatures to rise. The latest international report says carbon dioxide responsible for 60 percent of the greenhouse gases.

Now engineers say a simple, sustainable and natural solution may come from algae. “If this sort of technology can be developed, it can be deployed anywhere there’s sunlight,” David Bayless, a professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio University in Athens, tells DBIS.

Bayless, with a team at Ohio University, created a photo bioreactor that uses photosynthesis to grow algae just like a plant would take carbon dioxide up and, through the energy of the sun, convert that into oxygen.

“That passes the carbon dioxide over these membranes,” Ben Stuart, an Ohio University environmental engineer, tells DBIS. “These membranes are fabric just like your shirt. It’s a woven material, and as the carbon dioxide pass by them, that carbon dioxide dissolves into the water.”

That carbon dioxide is broken down by the algae. Nitrogen and clean oxygen are released back into the atmosphere. But to capture the CO2 created from a power plant, algae would have to fill a building the size of Wal-Mart.

“The size of these things would be enormous, about an acre worth of land space. And so the flu gases would run through this huge building and the algae would be growing on the suspended vertical surfaces.” Stuart says.

But what makes it cost effective? The algae can be harvested and made into biodiesel fuel and feed for animals.

Bayless says, “You are talking about definitely home-grown fuel, a win-win thing. You know, you are taking a potentially very negative thing in carbon emissions and turning it into a fuel that we can use domestically.” He says a full-scale reactor with 1.25 million square meters of algae screens could be up and running by 2010.

There are already some test facilities working right now — and just in time! In the past 50 years, the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have almost doubled. Texas ranks first in the nation for the highest emissions … And just remember, once carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it stays there for about 100 years.

The American Geophysical Union, American Society for Microbiology, and the Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.


show background

BACKGROUND: A researcher at Ohio University’s Ohio Coal Research Center has developed a bioreactor that cleans up carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel exhaust with the help of heat-loving algae and hybrid solar lighting. David Bayless believes that the easiest way to eliminate CO2 from coal-burning power plants is to use the natural process of photosynthesis.

HOW IT WORKS: Bayless designed a box packed with blue-green algae spread onto vertical screens. The algae use the CO2 and water from the power plant to grow new algae, giving off oxygen and water vapor in the process. The organisms also absorb components of acid rain, such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide. Building a workable prototype had its share of challenges. For instance, there was a problem of limited space — it just wasn’t possible to cover an area of around 100,000 acres with algae. So Bayless instead placed screens of woven fiber with algae vertically. Since algae need sunlight to thrive he brought in hybrid solar lights that collect sunlight with curved mirrors and then channel it through the reactor via optical fibers.

And instead of trying to genetically modify any kind of algae, he found a species that naturally thrives in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, and does equally well in the exhaust of a power plant. A remaining challenge is how to dispose of the large quantities of algae produced by the bioreactor; one option is to collect it and use it as a biologically derived fuel.

ALL ABOUT ALGAE: Algae are relatively simple organisms that capture light energy through photosynthesis and use it to convert inorganic substances into organic matter. Photosynthesis is the process of producing sugar from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water, with oxygen as a waste product. Nearly all life depends on this complex biochemical process, which occurs most famously in plants, but also in phytoplankton, algae, and some bacteria, among other organisms. They are usually found in damp places or bodies of water. They vary from single-celled forms to complex forms made of many cells, such as giant kelps, which can grow as much as 65 meters in length. It is estimated that algae produce between 73% to 87% of the net global production of oxygen. 

Note: This story and accompanying video were originally produced for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and are protected by copyright law. All rights reserved.

Web address:
     http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/
     0407-possible_fix_for_global_warming.htm

Mar
12
Filed Under (News) by on March 12, 2008

Marinespecies.org; An expert edited collection of databases on marine
species aiming to have some information on all marine species by 2009.
Minimum information is the correct name and classification. Some pages
contain extensive information on distribution, ecology, biology and
literature.; www.marinespecies.org

Ocean Biogeographic Information Facility; Allows discovery, exploration
and mapping of data on the distribution of marine species plus tools to
predict their environmental range. Includes over 200 interoperable
databases and 80,000 species, over 13 million location records. ;
www.iobis.org

OBIS-SEAMAP; An award winning portal “Spatial Ecological Analysis of
Megavertebrate Populations” to databases on the distribution of marine
mammals, birds and turtles; http://seamap.env.duke.edu/

Aquamaps; Maps the probable distribution range of species using
editable environmental data (e.g. from OBIS) that may be expert
validated; www.aquamaps.org

FishBase; The best developed and oldest online species information
system, with a wide range of applications for fisheries research and
management; www.fishbase.org

NABIS; Expert prepared maps of the distribution range of economically
important (e.g. commercially fished, invasive) marine species around New
Zealand; www.nabis.govt.nz

MarLIN; The Marine Life Information Network for Britain and Ireland
contains expert approved information on marine species and their
habitats, aimed at public and scientists; www.marlin.ac.uk/

AlgaeBase; A database on the names, key literature and images of
seaweeds and other algae; www.algaebase.org/

Global Biodiversity Information Facility ; Data on distribution of
species in all environments; www.gbif.net http://data.gbif.org
www.gbif.org

Encyclopedia of Life; Gathers information from other online resources
to produce information pages on species; www.eol.org

uBio; A more complex librarian-designed system “Universal Biological
Indexer and Organiser” that searches pre-determined electronic resources
for information on any species. Unlike iSpecies, it uses ‘taxonomic
intelligence’ to find related species names. www.ubio.org

iSpecies; The first ‘mashup’ page for species. It automatically
searches a pre-determined range of internet resources for information on
any species, including molecular, images, literature, etc. Very simple
interface. ; www.ispecies.org

Further reading could include the Open Access paper

Costello, M.J., Vanden Berghe E. 2006. “Ocean Biodiversity Informatics”
enabling a new era in marine biology research and management. Marine
Ecology Progress Series 316, 203-214.
http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v316/

Mar
11
Filed Under (News) by on March 11, 2008

Renewed Interest In Turning Algae Into Fuel Generated
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080115132840.htm

ScienceDaily (Jan. 19, 2008) – The same brown algae that cover rocks and
cause anglers to slip while fly fishing contain oil that can be turned
into diesel fuel, says a Montana State University microbiologist.

Drivers can’t pump algal fuel into their gas tanks yet, but Keith
Cooksey said the idea holds promise. He felt that way 20 years ago. He
feels that way today.

“We would be there now if people then hadn’t been so short-sighted,”
Cooksey said.

Cooksey is one of many U.S. scientists who studied the feasibility of
turning algal oil into biodiesel in the 1980s. The U.S. Department of
Energy, through its Aquatics Species program, funded their research.
Cooksey’s lab made a number of discoveries. Scientific journals
published his findings.

Funding dried up, however, and the scientists went on to other things.

“Rumor had it that big oil got in the way,” Cooksey said. “They didn’t
want competition so the project was dropped.”

Cooksey “sort of” retired as a research professor in 2003. He now
directs the Department of Defense’s EPSCoR program for Montana. A few
months ago, however, Cooksey started getting phone calls and e-mails
from researchers and others who read about his algal work on the
Internet or had seen it referenced in scientific journals. Companies
tried to hire him as a consultant. He was invited to attend conferences.
He ran into several scientists who had been his friendly competitors in
the old days. They all said, “If only.”

“It’s a very strange feeling,” said Cooksey, now 72. “You don’t usually
have people bending your ear on what you did 20 years ago. Science
doesn’t work that way, but in this case, it did.”

The revived interest in microalgae stems from the conflict in the Middle
East and the resulting focus on alternative fuels, Cooksey said.

“Our lab was one of three or four in the world doing research that
nobody was really interested in,” Cooksey said. “Now, suddenly lots of
people are interested in it.”

Still interested in pursuing algal fuel, Cooksey said his lab in the
1980s figured out how to increase oil production from algae. It
developed a system that screened algae for their oil content and greatly
reduced the sample size needed for their research. It developed a stain
for algae, called Nile Red. When treated with the stain, the algae
became fluorescent under certain conditions, making it easier to measure
their oil content.

Algae grows naturally along rivers, the seashore, and in the mangrove
swamps of southern Florida, Cooksey said. They also grow in wastewater
treatment ponds and can be grown commercially in manmade ponds. One
design that was tested in the 1980s is a shallow pond that looks like a
raceway. Another is a system of deeper ponds. Algae can be grown
especially well in desert states that have plenty of sunshine and access
to water unusable for traditional agriculture or drinking. Because of
its salt content, salt water is more economical than fresh water for
growing algae, so southwestern states with saline aquifers might find it
easy to grow them.

“In principle, lipids from microalgae are suitable for refining into
conventional liquid fuels,” said a 1983 annual report from the Solar
Energy Research Institute that provided Cooksey’s funding and some algal
cultures. “Indeed, in the past, biological oils have been refined to
fuels during shortages in petroleum supply.”

Joseph LaStella, president of Green Star Products, Inc. in San Diego,
Calif., raved about the potential of algae in a recent phone call. His
company built a demonstration pond in Hamilton, Mont., last spring.

Soybeans produce about 50 gallons of oil per acre per year, and canola
produces about 130, he said. Algae, however, produces about 4,000
gallons per acre a year, and he predicted it will go far beyond that. He
said algae requires only sunshine and non-drinkable water to grow. The
demonstration pond showed that algae will grow even when temperatures
fall below zero.

“This is the only answer to our fuel crisis,” LaStella said.

David Tooke, director of operations at Sustainable Systems in Missoula,
said, “With new interest in biofuels, it’s another opportunity to supply
those fuels.

“As far as surface area needed, it’s more reasonable to assume we could
attain those levels of production from algae versus agricultural crops,”
he continued.

Twenty years ago, algae looked promising, too, but interest died down as
oil prices dropped, Tooke said. Can algal biofuel make it this time
around?

“Most certainly,” he predicted. “It’s beginning to make sense to pursue
this again.”

Adapted from materials provided by Montana State University.

Mar
09
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by on March 9, 2008
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