Diatoms

WHAT’S THAT?
Diatoms
are tiny, mostly single-celled algae that live in water. They’re known for their mesmerizing shapes and symmetry, but don’t let their beauty fool you: these guys contribute up to 45% of the ocean’s total source of organic nutrients and 20% of the oxygen you breathe.

WHAT’S THE LATEST?
Recent research
has found that diatoms are sensitive to their climates. Warmer climates throughout Earth’s history have caused a decrease in diatom diversity. It’s believed that warming climates now will jeopardize the extinction of a large number of diatoms, which could harm worldwide ecosystems and food chains that humans depend on. Scientists warn it’s still too early to extrapolate this data to manmade global warming.

Image by Christian Gautier/Nikon Small World.

Magnificent blue glow of Hong Kong seas also disturbing

This Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 photo made with a long exposure shows the glow from a Noctiluca scintillans algal bloom along the seashore in Hong Kong. The luminescence, also called Sea Sparkle, is triggered by farm pollution that can be devastating to marine life and local fisheries, according to University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye. Noctiluca itself does not produce neurotoxins like other similar organisms do. But its role as both prey and predator tends can eventually magnify the accumulation of toxins in the food chain, according to R. Eugene Turner at Louisiana State University. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-01-magnificent-blue-hong-kong-seas.html#jCp

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The work of Paris-based artist and E.N.S.A.D. researcher Lia Giraud is further proof that Science + Art = Awesome. These green photos weren’t taken, they were grown. Giraud cultures microscopic algae to form living landscapes and portraits. They aren’t photographs, they’re ‘algaegraphs.’

"The technique is similar to photography, but the photosensitivity of silver grains [in film] is replaced by photosensitive organisms: microalgae," says Giraud, 29.

To create each “algaegraph”, Giraud immerses the algae in a Petri dish filled with a mix of chemical nutrients, and exposes them to an image. “The cells react to the light and form solids of different densities,” she explains.

The outline of the image forms in just a few minutes, but it can take up to four days to achieve the final result. Click here to learn more.

[via designboom and Wired]

Microalgae

WHAT’S THAT?
Microalgae aren’t what’s wrapping your sushi; they are microscopic, individual cells that live in water and produce food from sunlight (much like plants). You may not see them, but they have a huge impact: Microalgae produce about half the world’s atmospheric oxygen and possess over 15,000 novel compounds that still wait to be studied.

WHAT’S THE LATEST?
Though small, microalgae are being dubbed “the factories of the future.” Researchers at Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany are transforming microalgae into sources for new drugs, chemicals, and deterrants to global warming. They’re not as well-studied as yeast or bacteria, so they remain one of the largest untapped sources for new science discovery.

Image by Rogelio Moreno/Nikon Small World.

Researchers are farming seaweed and turning it into fuel and food

Researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, have started the Seafarm project which involves growing underwater algae farms on ropes. The team collect excess algae from the Baltic Sea, along Sweden’s southern coast, and then cultivate it in the farm. After six months, the algae is harvested and refined, and then produced into eco-friendly food, medicine, plastic and energy. Production is all year round, and during the winter the cultivation is lowered deeper into the sea to avoid ice formation.

The sea is extremely rich in nutrients, which results in an over-production of algae. Some species of algae release a poisonous toxin when they bloom which is harmful to humans and animals in high concentrations. The excess of algae can threaten the ecosystem, and the Swedish team want to see it as a resource rather than a problem.

“What’s more, we’re also acting to help the environment. Partly, when we make use of the excess algae which otherwise contribute to the excess fertilisation of water bodies and partly when we cultivate algae that actually absorb nitrogen and phosphorus from the sea,” said Fredrik Gröndahl, head of the project, in a press release.

The sea has a huge production capacity, yet humans only use one percent of the seas’ ecosystem for generation of resources. Algae has a very high nutritional value and contains many vitamins, amino acids, and minerals. It has become increasingly popular as a food source, and it can even be used to produce sugar, spices, oil, and animal feed. 

“We really need new solutions, such as harvesting the excess algae for fuel and cultivating new, pure algae for special products and foodstuffs,”said Gröndahl.

The team believe that the coasts of Sweden are ideal for algae cultivation, and they have set up one farm so far. They expect that it will take some time for people to get on board with the project, but hope it will contribute to sustainable development while helping the marine environment.

“It will be an energy forest at sea. We plan to build large farms on 2 hectares right from the start, since the interest in the activities will grow rapidly when more farmers and entrepreneurs wake up to the opportunities and come into the picture,” said Gröndahl. “In 15 years time, we will have many large algae cultivations along our coasts; and Seafarm will have contributed to the creation of a new industry from which people can make a living.”

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Science + Art = Awesome!

Today the Department of Microscopic Marvels explores the exquisitely beautiful art of arranging Diatoms, tiny unicellular algae encased in jewel-like glass shells, into complex kaleidoscopic displays, some of which date back to the Victorian era. They’re works of art that are invisible to the naked eye and must be viewed under a microscope.

Ranging in size from 2 to 200 micrometers, diatoms are among the smallest organisms on the planet. They’re a form of phytoplankton and scientists estimate that there are roughly 100,000 existent species. To create the lovely and astonishingly tiny displays pictured above, diatoms must be found, captured, cleaned, organized and then finally positioned into aesthetically pleasing arrangements in microscope slides.

So how is all of this accomplished? English filmmaker Matthew Killip contacted Diatom specialist and master micromanipulator Klaus Kemp in order to find out. Kemp has dedicated his life to studying and perfecting this microscopic Victorian art form and Killip sat down with him to learn about the process of creating diatom arrangements. The result was a short film entitled The Diatomist.

Click here to watch and learn.

[via Colossal]

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Spirogyra

Spirogyra is a filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta) which is common in freshwater habitats. Macroscopically this alga can be seen in lakes or ponds of freshwater as slimy masses of filamentous, floating as scum on the surface. From a distance these slimy tangles look perhaps a bit dirty, but under the microscope the filaments are very beautiful and moreover, they have a spectacular way of reproducing [1]. 

Spirogyra lacks a motile variant at all stages of its life history (no motile gametes, no zoospores). Sexual reproduction is by a process called conjugation as shown in the bottom photo [explanation]. 

Spirogyra owes its name to the helical or spiral arrangement of the chloroplasts, a unique property of this genus which makes it easily to recognize, although there are over 400 species in the world whose identification requires to look for reproducing specimens with spores.

Protoctista - Chlorophyta - Chlorophyceae - Zygnematales - Zygnemataceae - Spirogyra [2

Photo credit: ©Rogelio Moreno G. | Top - Bottom (early stage of the Spirogyra’s conjugation)