Quick fix: how invasive seaweed repairs its wounds.
Rapid self-healing is critical to the invasiveness of an alien green alga green alga
Any of the numerous algae of the division Chlorophyta, such as spirogyra and sea lettuce, that have chlorophyll unmasked by other pigments. that's currently wreaking havoc in the Mediterranean Sea. Now, scientists have discerned the chemistry underlying this highly efficient repair process. That understanding may provide ideas for thwarting the seaweed's relentless spread.
Frequently referred to as the "killer alga," Caulerpa taxifolia is a bright-green, tropical seaweed with fernlike fronds. Each organism is a single cell that can reach several meters in length and contains many copies of its genetic material.
In the 1980s, an aquarium in Stuttgart Germany, created an aquarium-friendly C. taxifolia strain that is fast growing and cold tolerant. The strain escaped into the environment and has spread throughout the Mediterranean from Spain to Croatia, where it has wiped out thousands of acres of sea grass beds and other native vegetation (SN: 7/4/98, p. 8).
Small patches of the aquarium strain have also appeared off the coasts of California and Australia. Although officials have nearly eradicated the seaweed in California at a cost of several million dollars, efforts to remove its vast carpets from the Mediterranean have failed.
At the heart of the seaweed's widespread proliferation is its capacity to quickly repair s damage to its cell membranes. For instance, when a cell gets broken into multiple pieces, the resulting fragments seal themselves off in a matter of seconds and establish new colonies.
"The spread of this clone is completely dependent on its ability to spread by fragmentation," says marine biologist marine biologist
specialist in the biology of marine life. Andrew Cohen of the San Francisco Estuary Institute in Oakland, Calif. "Even very tiny pieces of it can regrow Re`grow´
v. i. & t. 1. To grow again.
The snail had power to regrow them all [horns, tongue, etc.]
- A. B. Buckley.
Verb 1. ."
To shed light on the healing mechanisn, Georg Pohnert and his colleagues of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology is located in Jena, Germany. It was created in 1996, and moved into new buildings 2002. It is one of 80 institutes in the Max Planck Society (Max Planck Gesellschaft). in Jena, Germany, compared the chemical makeup of intact and wounded samples of the aquarium strain. The researchers found that after injury, the seaweed produces an enzyme that transforms a compound called caulerpenyne--a by-product by·prod·uct or by-prod·uct
1. Something produced in the making of something else.
2. A secondary result; a side effect.
1. of the cell's metabolism--into a highly reactive chemical.
The cell recruits algal algal
pertaining to or caused by algae.
is very rare but systemic and udder infections are recorded. See protothecosis.
the algae Prototheca trispora and P. proteins to the site of injury, and the reactive chemical, called oxytoxin, links them into a tough polymer network within seconds after an injury. This network forms a sticky plug that prevents the cell's contents from spilling into the seawater seawater
Water that makes up the oceans and seas. Seawater is a complex mixture of 96.5% water, 2.5% salts, and small amounts of other substances. Much of the world's magnesium is recovered from seawater, as are large quantities of bromine. , the researchers report in an upcoming Angewandte Chemie.
Pohnert says that his group plans to use the findings to develop inexpensive, nontoxic compounds that would block the plugging process. Although it might be too late to treat the Mediterranean algal colonies, he says, such inhibitors could work well for attacking small, newly discovered patches.
His group is also interested in designing superglues that mimic the biochemical reactions in seaweed wound healing wound healing Physiology The repair of a wound Steps Inflammation, repair and closure, remodeling, final healing; repair of incisions may be either simple–'clean' wounds with little loss of tissue heal by 'primary intention', or 'dirty' wounds heal by .