NELSON MANDELA UNIVERSITY’S CENTER FOR COASTAL AND MARINE RESEARCH ACQUIRES LATEST CHLOROPHYLL-MEASURING TECHNOLOGY

18 December 2017

NMU’s Center for Coastal and Marine Research have added the bbe Moldaenke PhycoProbe to their armoury of bbe chlorophyll measuring instrumentation.  The just-released PhycoProbe adds the ability to measure unbound phycocyanin, in addition to Total Chlorophyll and that from the individual groups of cyanobacteria, green algae, diatoms and cryptophytes.  The ability to measure unbound phycocyanin provides a proxy indication of cell leakage and the possible release of algal toxins into the aquatic environment.  This technology is now also incorporated in other bbe instruments such as the PhycoSens.

Prof Renzo Perissinotto (right) and Dr Gavin Rishworth (left) with their new bbe PhycoProbe.

The bbe FluoroProbe (and more recently, the bbe BenthoTorch) has been an integral part of Professor Renzo Perissinotto’s research team for the past decade and a half.  Recent projects within Prof. Perissinotto’s Shallow Water Ecosystem (SWE) SARChI Chair have focussed on three sectors, in addition to many other subsidiary projects: (1) seasonal long-term monitoring of the dynamics of Lake St. Lucia, the largest estuarine lake system in southern Africa, (2) biological community responses and baseline monitoring of proposed hydraulic fracturing of shale gas sites in the Karoo, and (3) ecosystem drivers of living peritidal stromatolites growing along the South African coastline.  In all of these ecosystems the data from the bbe Moldaenke units have provided valuable insight into ecological dynamics. Read more »

Algae and Motor Neuron Disease: Diatoms complicate the picture

30 January 2014

Diatoms - a new source of BMAA (Photo: Bill Harding)

Diatoms – a new source of BMAA (Photo: Bill Harding)

Until now we have believed that the production of beta-methyl amino alanine (BMAA), thought to be implicated with neurodegenerative brain disorders (ALS-PDC), was limited to the blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria). Since 2004 we have learnt that all species of cyanobacteria, or almost all, produce this toxic amino acid.  This finding, backed by some early research, suggested that environmental exposure to lakes or reservoirs containing cyanobacteria, or drinking water derived therefrom, may be a cause for this debilitating complex of diseases.

That was until this month (January 2014).

Beta-methyl amino alanine

Beta-methyl amino alanine

A group of researchers have demonstrated that various species of diatoms, the most prolific group of algae on the planet, also produce BMAA.  If the production of BMAA is more widely spread across the diatom genera then this finding significantly alters the level of risk of exposure thereto.  The work also demonstrates that higher organisms, eukaryotes, can produce BMAA.

Jiang and co-authors conclude, inter alia,  that:

Taken together, the data reported here give a clear answer supported by solid evidence that BMAA is not exclusively produced by cyanobacteria. As diatoms are a major bloom- forming phytoplankton in aquatic environments, the impact of this discovery suggests new bioaccumulation routes and that the risk of human exposure may have increased tremendously. 

(search this blog for several other articles on BMAA)

Milking the unwitting: excessive cost of diatom analyses

23 October 2013

Diatoma vulgaris (Photo: Bill Harding)

Diatoma vulgaris (Photo: Bill Harding)

As co-developer of the South African Diatom Protocol, the so-called DAP, it has come to my attention that some service providers are charging exorbitantly high prices for processing a single sample – something that should cost somewhere around R1000.00 per sample ex VAT.  While ‘let the buyer beware’ always prevails, don’t get conned, do your homework.  While there are very few specialists who can perform these analyses, this is no reason to overcharge.

Another issue is the proficiency of the service providers – diatom identification to species is a complex business.  If you are at all unsure, insist that the lab you choose sends a set number of samples (duplicates) to a known and proficient analyst for quality control purposes – or – make duplicates of your samples and send some of them to a second lab yourself.  Finally, insist that duplicates of your processed samples be lodged with the South African National Diatom Collection – currently housed at North West University’s Potchefstroom campus.  By so doing, anyone can check on the accuracy of what was found at any point in the future.

Trust me, I’m an expert …. sage advice for aquatic scientists to heed

7 February 2013

Author of this post, Martyn Kelly (Source: Bowburn Consultancy website)

A few years ago, I was involved in a project financed by the UK water industry.  The project brief was to look at the benefits of phosphorus removal on British rivers. Huge sums of money had been spent on this in recent years but there has been little obvious ecological change as a result.   One of the questions we were asked to address is whether the standards for phosphorus concentrations in UK rivers were appropriate.  However, as the project went on a second agenda came to the fore: how can we (the water industry) “sell” the idea of low phosphorus concentrations to our customers?

Diatoms were at the centre of this mini-storm: they had a strong relationship with the nutrient gradient in UK rivers and were consequently used to establish the values for the standards.  But the water industry had put their finger on a key problem: the word “diatoms” meant nothing to the general public.  They could walk beside a river, look over a bridge, see water plants, even the occasional trout.  The river did not necessarily look polluted and, for the most part, no longer had the faint odour of putrefaction hanging over it as in the past.  You might draw the line at swimming in it but, equally, you could see no particular reason why you were being asked to pay £20 per year more in order that the water company could install more sophisticated wastewater treatment facilities.  Read more »

Cyanobacteria destroying Hawaiian coral reefs, diatoms as predictors of environmental collapse – and other stories

26 November 2012

The impact of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) on coral reefs north of the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been pronounced as being of ‘epidemic’ proportions.  Possible impacts on other biota associated with the corals have also been noticed.  No indication as yet as to which genus of cyanobacterium is responsible. Read more »

Diatoms used to track climate change response in world’s northernmost lake

13 October 2012

Lake Kaffeklubben Sø (Photo: D. Mazzucchi)

Diatoms provide an extremely powerful means of analysing historical conditions in lakes. The use of this group of algae has recently shown that climate change alone is responsible for marked alterations in the world’s northernmost lake,  Kaffeklubben Sø, in Greenland.  The lake has evidenced a recent reappearance of diatoms, indicating a change from perennial ice conditions under which cyanobacteria are the typical sole dominants.  The lake is now warming up after 2400 years of permanent ice cover. Read more »

Student realizes value of diatoms for water monitoring: wins trip to Sweden

8 October 2012

Sam Cook meets Princess Victoria of Sweden (Source: This is Dorset)

A Dorset school pupil recently won a trip to Sweden – after winning a competition in which he used diatoms for assessing the quality of water (clever kid).  This bodes well for UK education if this level of insight is promoted within school-level curricula.

Sam Cook represented the UK at the international Stockholm Junior Water Prize and was congratulated on his win by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. 

Sam’s project investigated populations of diatoms in freshwater habitats and their importance as indicators of water quality.

Diatoms are single-celled organisms invisible to the naked eye but very important because they can photosynthesise like plants and produce useful energy from sunlight in order to survive.

Sam worked with Bournemouth University academics Dr Genoveva Esteban and Dr Andréa Galotti from the School of Applied Sciences to win the Tomorrow’s Water competition organised by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

Béla Cholnoky: A history. Part 3

30 September 2012

This post continues the history of the Father of South African diatomology. This text was originally prepared by Dr Keve T Kiss of the Danube Research Station, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in 1999, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Béla Cholnoky. This is the third of three parts.
Read more »

Béla Cholnoky: A history. Part 2

30 September 2012

This post continues the history of the Father of South African diatomology. This text was originally prepared by Dr Keve T Kiss of the Danube Research Station, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in 1999, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Béla Cholnoky. This is the second of three parts.
Read more »

Béla Cholnoky: A history. Part 1

30 September 2012

This post continues the history of the Father of South African diatomology. This text was originally prepared by Dr Keve T Kiss of the Danube Research Station, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in 1999, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Béla Cholnoky. The text is presented in three parts.
Read more »