What group of organisms generates nearly half of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, forms the base of many aquatic food webs, plays a significant role in biogeochemical cycling, is the primary component of some biofuels, and can be grown in zero-gravity in space with seemingly few side effects?The answer is algae, and the Phycology Lab is dedicated to the study of this diverse group of biota that can range in size from single cells to large seaweeds. The lab is home to two research grade microscopes and a spectrophotometer, and some of the measurements made include algal identification, algal abundance, and chlorophyll content. Initially when the lab was established, analysts had the time-consuming task of counting algae on microscope slides to determine species and abundances. However, this task has been made much easier with the addition of a FlowCam instrument to the lab. Water samples can be run through the FlowCam, which separates and photographs all the particles in a sample including algae. This makes counting and identifying algae much easier, allowing for the analysis of many more samples than before and for the creation of algal libraries. This facilitates the study of algae not just as species but as communities. The lab analyzes samples from around the Rocky Mountains and Antarctica.
Reference: Graham L.E., Wilcox L.W., Graham J. (2009) Algae. Pearson Education, Inc., San Francisco, CA