CIMS-based aquaculture tech watches out for algae-killing organisms
Along with its present use in biofuels, supplements and fertilizer, algae could potentially be utilized in applications ranging from bioprinted tissue to honeybee feed. That's why a new system is particularly important, as it continuously checks that algae crops are healthy.
Developed at the University of California San Diego, the setup is designed for use in the long skinny "raceway"-type ponds that are frequently utilized for large-scale algae farming. Because these ponds are open to the natural environment, they're subject to contamination by algae-destroying organisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses.
"Bacteria are built to attack and eat the algae and their growth is exponential," says Prof. Robert Pomeroy, who led the study along with postdoctoral researcher Ryan Simovsky. "You could be fine one day with nice green algae and the next day it’s a brown muddy mess. So this is not like losing 10 percent of your wheat crop – overnight you could lose the entire algae crop."
The new system guards against such scenarios using an existing technology known as chemical ionization mass spectrometry (CIMS), which has previously been utilized in fields such as medicine, defense and drug enforcement.
In this case, CIMS is initially used to establish a baseline for the level of volatile gas emissions that are produced by a healthy algae crop as it grows and blooms. If a sudden and unexpected change in that volatile gas signature is detected, it's likely due to the algae being stressed by the presence of an invading organism. The system thus alerts algae farmers as soon as such a change is noted, allowing them to take action immediately.
In lab tests, the CIMS system was able to detect infectious microbes within algae crops 37 to 76 hours earlier than was possible with traditionally used technologies such as microscopy and fluorescence imaging. Field trials are now being planned.
"We need to find ways to increase algae production and yield," says Pomeroy. "Keeping algae healthy is one way to do this. We can’t afford to lose acres of these crops."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: UC San Diego