Biodesign Projects

Research into Coral and Algae:

When I started this project I looked into various micro-organisms ranging from slide mould to forms of fungi. I found myself particularly interested in ‘Algae’. The first thing I did was type  ‘Algae’ to Google and it gave me an array of definitions, wikipedia’s was the easiest for me to understand: a simple non- flowering, and typically aquatic plant part of a large assemblage that includes seaweeds and many single- celled forms. Algae is very popular, diverse and found all over the world, just from this initial research I wanted to explore more.

Algae is photosynthetic which means it releases oxygen because of this quality, the organism makes up a high percentage of the earths oxygen supply. This helps plants and marine life grow while also being many animals main food and oxygen source. Algae are single celled and  float on water, they absorb food through their cell walls. They can multiply and that’s how they can cover large surface areas.

Algae is a very large and there are many different groups. subgroups and forms of this organism. The two largest sub groups were red algae and green algae.  Green algae is most commonly land plants from marine and fresh waters. There are many various forms in this group such as Eugkenoza, Cecoza and Glaucopyta. Red Algae always inhabits marine environments and is multicellular.

This is a diagram which show’s the different groups of Algae

Morover, algae is not only common in sea and lakes but can even be found on animals (like turtles), it is essential to some underwater animals as it can provide shade to them when needed. Some forms of algae have high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, this is eaten by many types of fish. Fish oils contain omega three which is surrounded by algae, it is eaten by the animals and passed up the food chain

 Having lots of types of algae is good and healthy for the eco system, the ocean being one of the largest. Algae absorbs nutrients, ammonia and phosphorus as too many of these can be bad for the overall health of water. From this I wanted to focus on something that heavily depends on algae to survive, I looked into coral due to the fact it is necessary to our oceans eco system and how coral reefs face many threats.

coral bleaching
Diagram illustrating the effects of coral bleaching

Initially, I looked into the relationship that the algae and coral have. A healthy coral relies in the algae to survive, they depend on each other. Once the coral begins to get stressed to due ‘coral bleaching’ then the algae will leave the coral. The coral is then left bleached and vulnerable, without the algae it looses its food source, causing it to turn pal and more to susceptible diseases. The main causes of coral bleaching are:

  • Change in the ocean temperature– This is the number one cause for coral bleaching and it is due to climate change and the increased temperature.
  • Run off and pollution– storm generated precipitation can rapidly dilute ocean water and runoff can carry pollutants, these can bleach near shore corals.
  • Exposure to sunlight– when the temperatures are high, high solar irradiance contributes to bleaching in shallow water corals.
  • Extreme low tides– exposure to the air during extreme low tides can cause bleaching in shallow corals

In coral polyps there is a symbolic relation between the algae and the coral and this relation is called zooxanthellae. The coral provides the algae with a protected environment and the compounded needed for it to photosynthesise. This is described as a yellowish brown dinoflagellate in large numbers in the cytoplasm and many marine invertebrates, including coral polyps. This ‘zooexanthellene’ lives in the coral tissues and when coral becomes stressed the relationship is broken.

This image shows the ‘zooxanthellae’ in the coral

Finally,  E.chromi, this is an idea of based of synthetic biology which theres a colour indicator added They engineered bacteria into produce a variety of coloured pigments, visible to the naked eye. This can help detect diseases and hopes in the future to help warn people about excess pollution in the sky. I could relate this idea to coral bleaching, if the coral is showing signs of being stressed it could change colour and this could somehow be communicated to marine life and not harm the eco system.