Scum of the Earth
saw was a thin membrane incasing even smaller green spheres. Perhaps it had been too long since my days in microbiology class and I wasn’t using the instrument right. Despite my lack of finding anything significant, I was able to take some photos to pass on as I continued my search.
I followed up with Dr. Bornstein, a botanist at SEMO. He had offered his services earlier on if I couldn’t figure out the identity of my specimen. This included another trip out to Duck Creek and another search for the right mudflat conditions. Back on campus, and under the scope, Dr. Bornstein, like myself, did not find what he was expecting to see. There were no filaments to these algae. He gave me the name of another professor who might be able to help with my quest.
Upon contact, he was interested and I sent him the photos and description of the habitat where I had encountered these small plants. After a week, he replied and reported that he couldn’t put his finger on it, but might be able to identify it by keying out a fresh specimen.
So it was back out to the dried up wetland for another sample of this clearly unpopular, nondescript algae that I was now hell-bent to identify. Since my potential lead had temporarily dried up, I decided to cast another academic net to see if anyone else could identify my photos. Finally, I got a hit. Not a direct one, but definitely in the right direction.
Dr. Nobles is the curator of The Culture Collection of Algae at the University of Texas, Austin. They have approximately 3,000 different strains of living algae, representing most major algal taxa. Cultures in the Collection are used for research, teaching, biotechnology development, and various other projects throughout the world. His response was, “Very interesting stuff! I have not seen anything like this before, but I showed the images to a colleague and I believe he came up with an ID. I think the algae you have is the xanthophyte Botrydium.”
At last, I had a name of a species that matched the characteristics of my mystery plant.
The next step for me was to learn more about this known strain of algae. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? A little digging provided some basic background information. Xanthrophytes are different from the more common and problematic blue-green algae. This group