Friday, October 15, 2010

The algae that want to conquer the world

Watch out microorganisms, a dominant algae takes over! Israel 21c

It almost sounds like the plot of a sci-fi thriller: A beautiful but deadly family of blue-green algae strong-arms other freshwater microorganisms into becoming their slaves, enabling them to take control of the water and threaten health the world over.

These dastardly cyanobacteria algae - the bullies of the freshwater playground - are no fictional characters. In a paper published online on August 12 in the journal Current Biology, a researcher at the Hebrew University (HU) of Jerusalem describes how they out-muscle their competition and proliferate dangerously, causing international concern due to their detrimental impact on water quality.

By shedding light on how the algae operate, 32-year-old Ph.D. student Yehonatan Bar-Yosef's research can help water experts find out how to outmaneuver the algae and assure safe drinking water for millions of humans and animals.

Back in 1994, when Bar-Yosef was still in high school, an enormous bloom of these toxic bacteria was found in Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. As much of Israel's water supply is pumped from the Kinneret, this discovery was alarming. At the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at HU, Prof. Aaron Kaplan began delving into the mystery.

Ten years later, Bar-Yosef came to Kaplan's lab looking for a topic for his graduate degree research. Interested in marine and microbiology, he took great interest in Kaplan's work with the blue-green alga known as Aphanizomenon.

He explains to ISRAEL21c that researchers already understood that algae blooms had something to do with the activity of enzymes used by microorganisms to scavenge inorganic phosphate compounds from their environment. His contribution was to pinpoint the source of the enzyme.


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