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Marine Algae Could Reveal the Ocean’s Role in Global Warming

Research conducted into marine algae could provide information and answers about the role it plays in global warming.

The type of algae concerned, Micromonas, has been the subject of a study by a team of scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California to sequence the DNA of the tiny organism, each cell of which is about 1/50th of the width of a human hair. The team is headed up by Alexandra Worden, a microbiologist at MBARI, and JGI, the Joint Genome Institute. JGI is part of the US Department of Energy and works to advance the study of genes to help find new ways of generating clean energy and improving the environment.

Worden’s team has discovered as part of their four year research project, that some of the genes contained in the Micromonas algae are different to those that appear in the other algae that has been studied. The genes instead are contained in some bacteria and land plants. This discovery has led to questions being asked about whether the Micromonas algae could have a role to play in the flow of carbon, and how this is absorbed by the world’s oceans, and whether the characteristics of the algae can be used to provide indications of what is going on in their environment. Worden explained,

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done integrating our discoveries with research being done on other marine microbes in order to understand more about community interaction, synergies, and how together they shape ecosystem responses. With this in mind we can develop a more mechanistic understanding of how carbon is moving within the marine environment and develop more sensitive tools for investigating carbon flow.”

With areas such as the rainforest, tar sands of Canada, peatlands of the UK and decaying matter trapped beneath the permafrost in Siberia all being well known carbon sinks (although in all cases we don’t seem to focus on preventing the destruction and therefore release of carbon from these crucial eco-systems), further research into Micromonas could bring further hope, but also enlightenment, of nature’s response to increased carbon in the atmosphere and the corrective measures in place to sort out the problems we create. That’s not to say we can be complacent and say ‘nature will sort it out'; if we continue to push too hard, nobody can really say for certain exactly what the longterm implications could be. Only time will tell.


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