Image of the month - December


What you see in this image is a living plant-like organism - a diatom. Diatoms is a single cell protected by silicon oxide armour (a living nano-glass flake). Inside this cell there are green and red pigments that capture light and use carbon dioxide to generate food and oxygen (photosynthesis). Diatoms are algae, they are part of the phytoplankton in oceans, seas and all freshwater environments. Phytoplankton generates almost half of the world's oxygen and lays the foundations of all aquatic food webs.

Anna Freeman is currently studying phytoplankton in the River Thames, UK. When rivers are polluted with fertilizing nutrients, algae can form very dense populations and spoil the environment for everyone else. Some algae release toxins and may harm people, domestic and wild animals. This diatom is not poisonous, but when their population reaches more than 200000 ind/ml water in the Thames turns red-brown. Algal blooms fuel bacterial growth. Bacteria digesting organic matter can also release toxins. Her research is focused on designing a mathematical model that can forecast algal blooms in rivers.

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