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Scientists discover unique microbe in California's largest lake

EUGENE, Ore.--Scientists at the University of Oregon have discovered a form of blue-green algae that lives independently in California's Salton Sea, using near-infrared light for photosynthesis, according to an article published in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"This new strain of Acaryochloris is unique because it is able to live on its own," says UO biology professor Michelle Wood. She obtained samples containing the organism while studying the diversity of blue-green algae in the hypersaline lake as part of the comprehensive study of the Salton Sea coordinated by Professor Stuart Hurlbert, director of the Center for Inland Waters at San Diego State University.

Scott Miller, the lead author on the paper, grew the organism from samples collected by Wood and Hurlbert. Now an assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Montana, he was working with Wood as a graduate research associate when he first noticed the organism's unusual lime-green color.

"I knew right away there was something unusual about its photochemistry," Miller recalls.

"We purified the pigments from the strain and saw that they were very similar to those known from a species of blue-green algae called Acaryochloris marina, but different from any found in other higher plants or algae. The primary pigment, called chlorophyll d, is only made by Acaryochloris and it is what enables these species to use infrared light."

The new microbe is one of only three organisms known to science that use a combination of near-infrared light and visible light to produce oxygen by photosynthesis.

"While there are some bacteria that can use infrared light for photosynthesis, they do not produce oxygen," Wood explains. "Until recently, we thought it was necessary to use visible light to produce oxygen through photosynthesis, but now we know there are at least thr
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Contact: Melody Ward Leslie
mleslie@uoregon.edu
541-346-2060
University of Oregon
7-Jan-2005


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