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Scientists discover unique microbe in California's largest lake

gradually becoming one of the largest hypersaline lakes in the United States. Because it also receives the agricultural runoff of the Imperial Valley and municipal runoff from Mexicali, Mexico, considerable attention has focused on the fate of the now highly polluted water body. After massive fish kills and avian mortality in the 1990s, federal agencies targeted the lake for one of the nation's largest restoration projects. Wood says the discovery also shows that the Salton Sea, with its high load of nutrients, may provide an environment that allows this novel photosynthetic organism to live a free and independent lifestyle. She notes that the other two species of Acaryochloris live in relatively pure ocean water, but cannot survive there unless they are growing in or on another organism. "I think it is likely that this microbe is descended from symbiotic relatives who got to the Salton Sea as hitchhikers in water containing sport fish that were introduced from the ocean many years ago," Wood explains. She says the Salton Sea may have fostered this species of Acaryochloris' ability to live independently by mimicking the environment created by the original host. In the open ocean, which itself is nutrient poor, the host animal or plant provided a nutrient-rich environment with relatively high amounts of infrared light; in the Salton Sea, the waters themselves create a comparable niche. Wood thinks that the high availability of nutrients in the waters of the Salton Sea is what allowed the microbe to survive without its hosts in the saline lake. At the University of Oregon since 1990, Wood is a member of the UO's Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She has played a key role in changing the scientific world's understanding of how ocean food webs are based on much smaller organisms than previously believed. Wood is an adjunct scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. In 2004, she became a fellow of th
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Source:University of Oregon


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