New technology maps the movement of microscopic algae in unprecedented detail

Neue Technologie bildet die Bewegung mikroskopisch kleiner Algen ab, die für die Gesundheit der Ozeane von entscheidender Bedeutung sind

Schematic representation of the experimental setup. (A) A two-layer microfluidic device with embedded single cell traps and syringes used for perfusion of the carrier oil phase and an aqueous suspension containing living motile cells. (B) 3D representation of a single trap in which a cell can be stably trapped and imaged for hours. To demonstrate the variability in swimming behavior, we studied two species of motile algae showing images: (C) a single Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (CR) cell and (D) a single Pyramimonas octopus (PO) cell, each enclosed in a circular well of 120 μm diameter. (Cilia positions are highlighted by manual traces.). Recognition: eLife (2022). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.76519

Thanks to new technology developed at the University of Exeter, the movement patterns of microscopic algae can be mapped in more detail than ever before, providing new insights into the health of the oceans.


The new platform allows scientists to study the movement patterns of microscopic algae in unprecedented detail. Findings could have implications for understanding and preventing harmful algal blooms, as well as developing algal biofuels that could one day provide an alternative to fossil fuels.

Microscopic algae play key roles in ocean ecosystems, forming the basis of aquatic food webs and sequestering most of the world’s carbon. The health of the oceans therefore depends on maintaining stable algal communities. There are growing concerns that changes in ocean composition, such as B. acidification, the spread of algae and the composition of the community could disturb. Many species move and swim around to find sources of light or nutrients to maximize photosynthesis.

The new microfluidic technology, the details of which have now been published in eLife, will allow scientists for the first time to capture and image individual microalgae floating in microdroplets. The state-of-the-art development has enabled the team to study how microscopic algae explore their microenvironment and to track and quantify their behavior over the long term. Importantly, they characterized how individuals differ from one another and respond to sudden changes in their habitat composition, such as the presence of light or certain chemicals.

The lead author Dr. Kirsty Wan, of the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, said: “This technology means we can now probe and expand our understanding of swimming behavior for any microscopic organism, in detail not previously possible. This will help us understand how they control their swimming patterns and their potential to adapt to future climate change and other challenges.”

In particular, the team discovered that the presence of interfaces with high curvature, combined with the microscopic corkscrew swimming of the organisms, induces macroscopic chiral motion (always clockwise or counterclockwise) seen in the average trajectory of cells.

The technology has a wide range of applications and could represent a new way to classify and quantify not only the environmental intelligence of cells but also complex behavioral patterns in any organism, including animals.

dr Wan added: “Ultimately, we aim to develop predictive models for the swimming and cultivation of microbial and microalgal communities in each relevant habitat, leading to a deeper understanding of current and future marine ecology.” Knowing the detailed behavior that occurs at the level of individual cells is therefore an essential first step.”

More information:
Samuel A. Bentley et al, Phenotyping of single cell motility in microfluidic confinement, eLife (2022). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.76519

Journal Information:
eLife

Provided by the University of Exeter

Citation: New Technology Maps Movement of Microscopic Algae in Unprecedented Detail (2022, November 23), retrieved November 23, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-technology-movement-microscopic-algae-unprecedented. html

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