I believe that, by this third post of the Mad Mud Love series, you have now realised that microbial mats are one of my passions in life. Yet, as much as I am in awe of what they did or are doing now, I am more interested in what they can do for our future.

Why am I talking about the future? Because, unless you have no internet access at all (or electricity), you already know about climate change. That means you know that this change will start to affect us. 

If you do live in a place with no internet access or electricity, I do have to ask. What kind of magic have you found to be reading my blog post? Please share it with the world. You’d make a fortune! That said, my apologies to regular readers by the interruption.

There is a whole body of scientific literature where climate change is talked about. The increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and in the oceans will bring changes to the weather and lower the pH of ocean water (a.k.a. to be more acidic).

You may ask yourself: Will there be only hot days and no more cool days because of this global warming? No. The warming effect is not as straight forward as it sounds. It is much more complicated than that, which is what makes a lot of people doubt the reality of climate change. Also, the water is not turning into acid and won’t burn you when you go into it.

As climate change is not the specific topic of this blog post, I’ll just say that changes in the pH of the water will have a direct impact on the lives of sea life, like corals and all life that have shells. In the case of global warming, the energy levels in the atmosphere will change (are changing), making events that were considered rare, more frequent. For example, those super big storms that happened once every century will now happen more often. 

I know what you’re thinking…”But if you’re not talking about climate change, why bring it up?” Am I right?

In all honesty, I did it to get your attention? Yes, I know, cheap of me. However…

There are other problems in the environment happening now beyond climate change that need fixing. One of them is the high levels of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen, specifically) being discharged into rivers and into the sea. These nutrients, although present in water in low concentrations, have been increasing in the environment because of different activities like over-fertilising fields, poorly managed manure pits from dairy farms, and phosphorus-based detergents, among others. The increase of these nutrients is harming our drinking water and our oceans because they allow toxic algae to grow in lakes, water reservoirs, and in the ocean. The toxins these algae produce have serious health effects not only in us but in animals. Not to mention the economical problems seeing your recreational water all green and yucky. To see an extreme effect of situations like this, check out what are known as dead zones.

What we can do about this? There are many things that we as humans can do. Off the top of my mind, I can think of three: 

  1. Change the type of detergents we use;
  2. Don’t add lawn fertiliser, unless a soil test tells you it is necessary;
  3. Ask our governments to better regulate the addition of fertilisers in the fields, etc.

Yet, even if we change our behaviours, we still have to do something about all the excess nutrients that are already in the water. Here are where microbial mats come in! 

Finally!

I know. That introduction was quite longwinded, right? Also, if you need a reminder of what microbial mats are, check my previous posts!

My colleagues and I have recently taken on the challenge of studying microbial mats and find out ways of how they can help us remove some of the phosphorus from seawater. We performed a short-term experiment and looked at what parts of microbial mats would be more useful to capture the phosphorus.

We are not the only group studying this in the world, but I thought I’d share what progress we have made so far. This was just published a couple of months ago in a prominent science journal that talks about pollution. You know, I’m so full of modesty and all.

We found out that the microbial mats are very good at removing phosphorus from water. In just 48 hours, microbial mats alone were able to absorb almost half as much phosphorus from the water than a combination of microbial mats and sand or that sand on its own. However, when we looked at the insides of the microbial mats, we found out that the living microorganisms that make them only account for approximately 25 % of the phosphorus removed from the water. That means that the organic molecules, known as EPS, and the sediment grains trapped inside the mats, are the ones that do most of the work.

Knowing this, we’re now working on trying to find out what happens in the long-term with that phosphorus. From those results (and more experiments we’ll surely need to perform), we can use what we learn to build biotechnology that may help us fix or minimise the problem.

Nutrient excess in the oceans or in any other body of water is not going away on its own. We have to do something because the future is coming, whether we are ready or not. So, what we have to think about is: what are we doing today to help?


Also, you can find the research paper here.

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Also, check out my time travelling adventure book!

In the year 2037, two sisters are forced to survive by stealing water, looking to escape to the countries in the North, where life is better. But one night, as the sisters infiltrate a house to steal its stash of freshwater, they find themselves involved in an unplanned adventure into the past, fighting to stop the pollution that ultimately caused their parents’ deaths.

You can get a copy of the book following this link.

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