Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Algae under the Microscope as Fans Celebrate Anniversary

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Algae under the Microscope as Fans Celebrate Anniversary

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson

AWINDOW has been opened on Tyneside into the hidden world of some of the world's tiniest plants. Advances in digital photography and the use of sophisticated microscopes are producing increasingly striking images of algae - tiny, simple plants which are of fundamental importance in underpinning the food chain.

A series of images are now on display in the Great North Museum, Newcastle, until next month as part of the visit by the British Phycological Society to the city for its annual conference, which wound up yesterday.

The event also celebrated the 60th anniversary of the society, which studies algae in all their forms, including seaweed.

The images have all been short listed for the society's Hilda Canter-Lund prize, in recognition of the scientist who, while working for the Freshwater Biological Association at Lake Windermere in the Lake District, furthered the art of algae photography. One of the pictures in the display was taken by Newcastle University biology lecturer Dr Gordon Beakes.

It shows algae in a sample of water from Little Langdale Tarn in the Lake District.

"It illustrates the diversity of life in the tarn, which enables other organisms to thrive," says Dr Beakes.

Speaking at the conference was Martyn Kelly, a freshwater biologist who studied for a PhD at Durham University and is now a partner in the Bowburn Consultancy in County Durham, which uses algae as an indicator of river water quality.

His favourite image in the exhibition is of whales swimming through an algal bloom.

"It shows some of the biggest animals in the world among the tiniest plants in the world," he says.

Algae can range from a thousandth of a millimetre to a 10m length of kelp, "People can see algae as green scum on a river or green slime on a fence," says Martyn.

"But generally they won't notice algae unless something goes wrong and we get too much of the wrong sort of algae. …

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