BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Algae

It’s Time to Pay Attention to the Reef

You’ve heard time and time again about how coral reefs are dying, little by little- and that’s because it’s true. We can and should stop it; if we don’t, we risk everything we’ve ever known.

A healthy coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The warming of the oceans is caused by a number of things, almost all of them placing humans at fault. These elements include fossil fuel use, deforestation, and cement production. The creation of greenhouse gases warms the Earth itself, so far by almost 33º F since 1880. This includes the warming of the oceans. Melting glaciers (because of ocean warmth) increase sea levels and can even lead to more powerful and dangerous storms. The increase in CO2 in the water causes ocean acidification as well.

The warming of the oceans is caused by a number of things, almost all of them placing humans at fault. These elements include fossil fuel use, deforestation, and cement production. The creation of greenhouse gases warms the Earth itself, so far by almost 33º F since 1880. This includes the warming of the oceans. Melting glaciers (because of ocean warmth) increase sea levels and can even lead to more powerful and dangerous storms. The increase in CO2 in the water causes ocean acidification as well.

The ocean warming directly affects coral reefs through their symbiotic relationship with algae. The algae lives within the coral polyps, photosynthesizing and sharing energy with the coral. The easy access to sunlight coral provides is important to the algae. However, when the water gets too warm and too acidic, the algae gets expelled from the polyps. The coral then loses color as their skeletons, which cannot endure ecological changes, are exposed. This is coral bleaching.

Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The coral bleaching is a direct result of our rapid consumption of resources and production of greenhouse gases. A simple, small cutback on this consumption could solve so many of the earth’s growing problems. Turn off the lights. Use less water. Eat less red meat. Walk or bike instead of drive, just once a week. Small changes that affect the entire planet. The reefs are not only food for marine life, but they protect coastlines from flood/storm damage and provide employment for thousands. It doesn’t just affect wildlife. It directly affects a human’s quality of life. If you don’t do it for the environment, do it for the people.

The Environment’s New Clothes: Biodegradable Textiles Grown from Live Organisms

Research in the field of biodegradable materials shows promise to revolutionize the current fashion world. The dominant practice of immediately turning runway prototypes to intensely manufacture goods is an extreme threat to our environment’s future. The concept, commonly known as “fast fashion“, is one which requires vast quantities of clothing to be made for commercial purchase as quick as possible. This forces overproduction, where large corporations shoot individual purchase prices way down to tempt the consumer to buy clothes based on how little they cost. Making enormous quantities of clothes is necessary to make each trend profitable, but it is very destructive. Overproducing clothes requires huge amounts of energy, which uses fossil fuels and water, and results in a massive increase in land-fill waste, once the cheap clothes are out of style or can no longer serve their use. Today nine percent of the municipal solid waste in our landfills are clothing material according Scientific American. This issue of a rapid influx of new waste to landfills is compounded because the cheap materials used to make the clothes, traditionally plastic-based acrylics, are not biodegradable.

Clothing Production in Japanese Factory

New research has proven that it is possible to bioengineer materials from organisms such as bacteria, yeast, algae animal cells, and fungi, which leads us to believe there is a hopeful solution to the multitude of issues caused by “fast fashion’s” need for rapid overproduction. One professor’s work from the Fashion Institute of Technology,  Theanne Schiros is described in great detailed. She mainly works with algae for the production of her material. Her award-winning team, AlgalKit, has created a yarn-like substance by removing alginate, a polysaccharide in kelp, and making a water based gel, which is then died by non-chemical pigments, and is then dried to produce a colored fibrous material which is then woven into fabric. One of the large benefits from this process, as professor Schiros elaborates, is that these gels can be grown to fit molds, ultimately eliminating the massive amount of unused waste material that results from the hasty overproduction in today’s textile factories. Schiros also explains that her material is strong and flexible, which are two major criteria in choosing material to be mass-produced. In addition Schiros has looked into the possibility of synthesizing dyes for the material from bioengineered bacteria, which could supplant the use of toxic dyes normally tested on animals. Addressing both the issues of wasted resources, like energy, water, and material, and the growing problem of clogged landfills with non-biodegradable materials, algal-based fabrics in clothing shows great promise in changing the fashion industry for the betterment of our environment.

Kelp Forest used for Harvesting Alginate

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