Algae Analytics Kit Giveaway: 2017 Winners Announced

Congratulations to the three winners of the Algae Analytics Kit Giveaway of 2017! The Winners are:

John Dutton of Campus International High School in Cleveland Ohio

Stephanie Jones of Coretta Scott King Young Womens Leadership Academy in Atlanta Georgia 

Adam Jeschke of Bradley Tech High School in Milwaukee Wisconsin 

We look forward to sharing how these creative teachers will use the kits in their aquaponics, biology and environmental science classes. 

Algae: The base of the Marine Food Web

The diversity of life in the Earths oceans is astounding, despite the fact that we have explored less than 5 percent of its depths. Large animals like whales, dolphins and sharks might be what most people imagine when they think of creatures of the ocean, but photosynthetic algae may be the most important. Algae are the first step in a biological chain of events that make it possible for other life to exist, both in the oceans and on the land. 

Tidal pools along the Sea of Cortez provide a home to a diversity of both micro and macro algae species. 

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can not be created or destroyed, only transferred from one state to another. Luckily for us humans (and all other heterotrophs), ancient organisms developed a process to turn the suns energy and a readily available element (Carbon) into useable biomass: Photosynthesis. This transfer of light energy into stored chemical energy (Carbon to Carbon bonds) allowed for the proliferation of animals that have inhabited the earth starting with the first fishes of the Paleozoic. 

This marine snail has been feeding on benthic algae. The snail will likely become a food source for a larger fish. 

Ancient algae living in the oceans were very simple organisms similar to modern day cyanobacteria, a basic cell lacking the internal structure of organelle. Through time, as algal biodiversity increased so did the diversity of organisms that could feed upon them, setting up the base of a food web that has continued to this day. Imagine the simplicity of the first marine food web and how that has changed through time. The players have changed, but the rules are the same: get the energy and try to keep it. 

A fossilized stromatolite from Mexico. Stromatolites are ancient algae that have been mineralized. 

Algae play an important role in not just local and regional food webs, but in important global cycles like the Carbon and Nitrogen cycles. Without algae (perhaps even specific species of them!) the oceans of the Earth would not contain the diversity of life that they do. And to take that a step further, the entire planet would not contain the diversity that it does.

Algae Blooms: A general discussion

Algae blooms threaten public and environmental health. Certainly, better understanding of blooms is a first step towards helping to prevent them. Here is a general description of algal blooms for those interested in the topic. 

Here is an algal bloom in China. These non-toxic algae are still alive and growing, but when they begin to rot, the swimming hole will lose its appeal. 

Here is an algal bloom in China. These non-toxic algae are still alive and growing, but when they begin to rot, the swimming hole will lose its appeal. 

 

Algae are often quick to respond to changes in the environmental in order to take advantage of favorable conditions. Each algae species responds to environmental variables in different ways. For example, one species of algae may grow very quickly in hot temperatures while the same temperature would kill another species. Now think of all of the environmental variables working together to create the suite of conditions that an algae species lives in. It is a complex interaction of conditions that creates the current state of being, for the algae.

 

Another way to think of this is that when some condition is not favorable for a species, that condition is limiting the potential growth of an algae poplulation. In a population of alga the response to growth can be almost immediate, meaning that they can begin to divide, one cell into two to produce the next generation at a moments notice. Under very good conditions (less limiting variables) some algae may do this a few time per day, which can result in bloom conditions, leading to masses of algae in the water.

 

Algae blooms and their increasing frequency are likely due to the use of synthetic fertilizers in commercial agriculture, namely phosphates. Fertilizers are applied to increase the productivity of the target crops (corn, soy..), all of which is not used by those plants. The excess fertilizers are washed from the fields by rainwater and into waterways, surface water impoundments, lakes and coastal habitats. Algae, like plants, enjoy this fertilizer, and given that other conditions are favorable, like temperature, grow as fast as possible to take advantage of these wonderful resources. 

 

Algal blooms negatively affect drinking water supplies, water recreation, fisheries and the other organisms living in the area. Some of the algae that bloom produce toxins which can harm humans, pets, livestock and wild animals. The toxins released by that algae can contaminate shellfish and other seafood, making huge economic impacts in affected areas. Besides the toxins, the biomass left behind by the dying bloom begins to decay, creating dead zones in the water where oxygen is depleted (eutrophication) by the decomposition process. 

 

Here a bloom a kelp has washed ashore on Block Island, RI. 

Here a bloom a kelp has washed ashore on Block Island, RI. 


In recent years, scientists and regulatory agencies have become more interested in dealing with the problem of algal blooms. The EPA is considering adding algal toxins to its list of water contaminants monitored by the Clean Water Act. Besides being and interesting scientific topic, algae blooms are important for public and environmental health. Targeting and mitigating the causes of algal blooms is complex, but increasing understand should help to speed up the process. Educating ourselves and students about this topic provides a great opportunity for learning. 


Topics that could be covered related to algal blooms include:

  • Agriculture
  • Water Quality
  • Ecology
  • Biology
  • Public Policy
  • GIS
  • Statistics
  • Math
  • Use of Technology
  • Algal Identification

Using Algae for STEM Education

Algae are possibly one of the best learning tools educators could use. To the researchers who study them, algae provide vast opportunity to make new discoveries in both basic and applied sciences. A few of the insights we can gain by studying algae include learning about biological processes such as photosynthesis, helping to assess the health of an ecosystem, and reconstructing the history of climate in a region. We are also learning how we might be able to use algae to create things like clean energy and environmentally friendly plastics. Whatever the goals are, there is a lot to be learned from algae. 

I believe that algae can play an important role in education at many different levels. Teaching the disciplines of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to students from kindergarten through college is an important goal of education. Working with algae provides a real hands on potential to pursue many STEM topics. Experimenting with algae allows us to study their biology while at the same time using different types of technology to grow and measure it. The results from experimentation will be some form of data that can then be graphed and analyzed. Using algae to demonstrate and learn different topics is unlimited!

I am hoping to offer more materials through my website that will help facilitate teaching and learning about algae. Contact me to find out more and to let me know your ideas. 

 

Algae Kits Now Available

In order to make it easier to get started growing algae, I have added kits to the Algae Shop. The basic kit includes your choice of 1 liter of algae culture and 100 liters of growing medium. This is ideal if you already have a growing system or plan on building one. There  are also two kits that include complete growing systems, algae and media. 

Algae growing kit including 4 bioreactors, algae culture and medium. 

Algae growing kit including 4 bioreactors, algae culture and medium. 

Check out our Algae Kits page in our Shop. You can also buy the bioreactors and algae cultures individually. 

Algae Education: Post #1 Getting Started Culturing Algae

Algae are perfect organisms to use in the scientific classroom to demonstrate many principals of biology and the use of scientific equipment. Algae can be relatively easy to cultivate on the small scale which can provide a continuous supply of material for students to work with.

 

Tubes of algae samples being centrifuged. 

Tubes of algae samples being centrifuged. 

A few ideas of ways to work with algae in the classroom:

  • Demonstrate the use of the light microscope. This is a skill that biology students should have. 
  • Measure algal density using spectrophotometer, cell counts and dry weight. These methods are key to algae production and are not difficult to perform. 
  • Identify different types of algae. It is important to be able to identify potential contamination in your cultures. 
  • Setup and carry out experiments. There are endless possibilities here. Test how differences in media, nutrients, light, temperature or other environmental variables can affect algal growth. 

To get started culturing algae you will need:

  • Containers to cultivate the algae. Glass works well, with some kind of lid to minimize evaporation and contamination. 
  • A suitable place to grow the algae. Mainly what you need here is the proper level of light and temperature. 
  • Starter culture of algae. I provide a few of the most popular strains, however many more species are available through culture collections. 
  • A suitable growing media for the algae culture. There are many different kinds of media recipes available and also pre-made media are available. 

I will be adding more content to this website to help facilitate learning about the many different aspects of algae on our planet. Please contact me to let me know what kind of information you would like to see.