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Microbes could quell toxic blooms

A harmful algae bloom takes off in Kathryn Coyne's Lewes laboratory, turning a sample of saltwater yellow.

Then she adds the secret ingredient: a common bacterium called Shewanella.

Within 24 hours, dinoflagellates, the microbes that caused the bloom, are history.

When Coyne looks under a high-powered microscope she sees the cell walls. That's it. The algae cells — some species of which can cause anything from massive fish kills and paralytic shellfish poisoning to respiratory distress in humans — are dead.

"It looks like the inside of the cell is just disintegrating," Coyne said.

Now Coyne and research collaborator Mark Warner want to figure out whether this common bacterium could be a key ingredient in controlling some harmful algal blooms.

The University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment researchers, along with teams from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, are part of a three-year, $2 million research project that tackles ways to prevent and control harmful algal blooms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has already been doing extensive research on harmful algal blooms, is funding the research projects.

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