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Gel-like Mucus From Algae in Ice Pore (Image 2)

Gel-like mucus (stained blue) covers individual sea-ice algae clustered in a tiny pore in ice

Gel-like mucus (stained blue) covers individual sea-ice algae clustered in a tiny, box-shaped pore in the ice and fills the channel from the pore to the ocean. Researchers have found that this same gel-like mucus (secreted by the algae as a kind of antifreeze (against temperatures well below minus 10 Celsius) is also allowing them to sculpt microscopic channels and pores in the ice that are hospitable to themselves as well as other microorganisms. The mucus depresses the freezing point and keeps pore spaces in ice filled with at least some liquid so the algae don't freeze and die.

This ability to mold the ice to their benefit should help sea-ice algae adapt to a warming world. However, researchers question whether the ice will be weakened by the introduction of more channels and pores, although the openings plugged with algal secretions actually hold more salty water and thus may slow melting in the spring and summer.

This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (OPP 00-85457, OPP 02-21055, and OPP 04-54955). To learn more, see the University of Washington news release Algal Antifreeze Makes Inroads Into Ice. (Date of Image: February 2002) [See related image Here.]


Credit: Christopher Krembs, Department of Ecology, Washington State University

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