Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nitrogen from pollution, natural sources causes growth of toxic algae, study finds

07.02.2013
Nitrogen in ocean waters fuels the growth of two tiny but toxic phytoplankton species that are harmful to marine life and human health, warns a new study published in the Journal of Phycology.

Researchers from San Francisco State University found that nitrogen entering the ocean -- whether through natural processes or pollution -- boosts the growth and toxicity of a group of phytoplankton that can cause the human illness Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning.


This is a scanning electron micrograph of the phytoplankton species Pseudo-nitzschia cuspidata (the long, thin needle-like objects).

Credit: Brian Bill/NOAA

Commonly found in marine waters off the North American West Coast, these diatoms (phytoplankton cells) of the Pseudo-nitzschia genus produce a potent toxin called domoic acid. When these phytoplankton grow rapidly into massive blooms, high concentrations of domoic acid put human health at risk if it accumulates in shellfish. It can also cause death and illness among marine mammals and seabirds that eat small fish that feed on plankton.

"Regardless of its source, nitrogen has a powerful impact on the growth of phytoplankton that are the foundation of the marine food web, irrespective of whether they are toxic or not," said William Cochlan, senior research scientist at SF State's Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies. "Scientists and regulators need to be aware of the implications of both natural and pollutant sources of nitrogen entering the sea."

Nitrogen can occur naturally in marine waters due to coastal upwelling, which draws cool, nutrient-rich water containing nitrate (the most stable form of nitrogen) from deeper depths into sunlit surface waters. Pollution, including agricultural runoff containing fertilizer and effluent from sewage plants, is also responsible for adding nitrogen, including ammonium and urea, to ocean waters, but in most regions these types of nitrogen occur at relatively low concentrations.

In laboratory studies, Cochlan and former graduate student Maureen Auro found that natural and pollution-caused nitrogen forms equally support the growth of the harmful Pseudo-nitzschia algae and cause the production of the domoic acid, but in all cases the natural form of nitrogen caused the most toxic cells.

They also found that these small diatoms became particularly toxic under low light levels – a condition that usually slows the growth of phytoplankton. The species, P. cuspidata, underwent an up to 50 fold increase in toxicity under low light levels compared to the conditions that are thought to normally favor phytoplankton growth.

Scientists already know that in some large-celled species of Pseudo-nitzschia their toxicity increases when the cells grow slower, but in previous studies the slowing of cellular growth was due to the limitation of vital nutrients, such as silicate. However Cochlan's latest study found that the toxicity of these small toxigenic diatoms is affected by the type of nitrogen they consume. He found that under low light levels -- leading to slow growth -- phytoplankton cells that were fed on naturally occurring nitrate were more toxic than cells that were fed on either urea or ammonium caused by pollution.

"Our results demonstrate that the reason for the growth of these specific harmful algal blooms off the coast of North America from British Columbia to California may in fact be due to totally natural causes," Cochlan said.

Such toxic algal blooms may be largely supported by the natural upwelling of nitrogen. However, Cochlan cautions that when the pattern of upwelling is weaker, nitrogen from pollution could play an important role in sustaining a "seed population" of harmful algae – a remnant that keeps the bloom going until upwelling resumes and the bloom is able to grow again and perhaps increase their toxic effect on the marine ecosystem.

"This is the first physiological study to look at the environmental conditions that promote both the growth and the toxicity of these small diatoms," Cochlan said. "The findings may shed light on why these microorganisms produce a potent neurotoxin and what the ecological advantage is for the phytoplankton producing it."

"Nitrogen Utilization and Toxin Production by Two Diatoms of the Pseudo-nitzschia pseudodelicatissima complex: P. cuspidata and P. fryxelliana," was published in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Phycology. The paper was authored by Maureen E. Auro, a graduate of the marine biology master's program at SF State, and William P. Cochlan, senior research scientist at SF State's Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation's Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms program (ECOHAB).

Elaine Bible | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.sfsu.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

nachricht Do microplastics harbour additional risks by colonization with harmful bacteria?
05.04.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The dispute about the origins of terahertz photoresponse in graphene results in a draw

25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Graphene origami as a mechanically tunable plasmonic structure for infrared detection

25.04.2018 | Materials Sciences

First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed

25.04.2018 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>