Explore CWEST LabsWhat 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?

Phycology Lab Diane McKnight Josh Koch

CWEST Director, Diane McKnight, and USGS Researcher, Josh Koch examine algae growing in Garwood Valley, Antarctica. Photo by: Karen Cozzetto.

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.

Contacts: Dr. Diane McKnight, Lab Director - diane.mcknight@colorado.edu; Kathi Hell, Lab Manager - katherina.hell@gmail.com

Reference: Graham L.E., Wilcox L.W., Graham J. (2009) Algae. Pearson Education, Inc., San Francisco, CA

Phycology Lab Kathi Hell

Professional Research Assistant, Kathi Hell, is smiling because she’s happy that she doesn’t have to count algae the old-fashioned way (note the FlowCam). You can see different algal species on the computer screen. Photo by Karen Cozzetto.