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Deadly blooms and curious clocks.

Deadly blooms and curious clocks

For the dinoflagellate Gonyaulax tamarensis, it's a long timebetween wake-up calls. Many of these single-celled, aquatic organisms spend the winter on the ocean bottom. But once a year they become swimming cells that can be deadly.

Motile cells of certain dinoflagellates produce nerve poisonsand are responsible for so-called "red tides' or "blooms'-- high concentrations of the swimming cells. The blooms kill sea animals, and can poison people who eat affected seafood.

Noting that poisoning episodes in the Gulf of Maine occurbetween April and November, Donald M. Anderson and Bruce A. Keafer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts studied alternations between resting and motile stages of the local G. tamarensis. They conclude in the Feb. 12 NATURE that an "endogenous annual clock' is responsible for the dinoflagellate's characteristic life cycle.

That observation alone would not be striking; annual cyclesin plants and animals have been observed for years. What makes this biological clock unusual is its lack of external cues such as sunlight and temperature fluctuations, which are absent in the deep waters where the resting dinoflagellates lie. This is the "first conclusive demonstration' of an internal annual clock in a marine plant, according to the authors.
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Title Annotation:dinoflagellates cause annual deadly red tides
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 21, 1987
Words:202
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