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New species of diatom discovered by UGA scientist

Lake Superior has a new native resident. It's been hanging around the shore for years, but until now it was regarded as an intercontinental drifter, not a homegrown local. So say Rebecca Bixby of the University of Georgia and fellow researchers Mark Edlund of the Science Museum of Minnesota and Eugene Stoermer from the University of Michigan. In the latest issue of Diatom Research, the scientists describe a new species of diatom, Hannaea superiorensis, found primarily in Lake Superior. Prior to its discovery, the new species of photosynthetic algae was combined with another group of diatoms found in cold, pristine rivers and streams around the world. This is now the only described species of the genus Hannaea that has adapted to living in a lake environment and inhabits one lake in particular.

Diatoms are microscopic, single-celled algae with cell walls composed of silica. The newly described diatom is boomerang-shaped and lives in unusual pincushion-like colonies attached to rocks in the waves along the shore of Lake Superior.

Bixby likened the discovery in the well-studied inland waters "to finding a new kind of tree on a street you've walked down a hundred times."

"When you look at it carefully under the microscope and compare it to other diatoms, it clearly is different from the other species it had previously been grouped with," said Bixby, a postdoctoral researcher with the Institute of Ecology. "Most obvious is the length -- Hannaea superiorensis is nearly twice as long as other species in the genus Hannaea."

To many people, diatoms are best known for their industrial uses. For years, fossil deposits of diatoms called diatomaceous earth have been mined for uses in filters, pesticides, insulation, paint, ceramic additives, and cleaning abrasives. As scientists have learned how different species of diatoms respond to different environmental conditions, though, these algae have become critical to understanding how bodies of wate
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Contact: Kim Carlyle
kcarlyle@uga.edu
706-542-8083
University of Georgia
2-Dec-2005


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