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Genes Reveal Secrets to Preventing Harmful Brown Tide Blooms

Brown tide, a harmful algal species that annually plagues mid-Atlantic shellfisheries, owes its success to genes that help it thrive in shallow, nutrient-enriched estuaries, according to new findings from a researcher funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms Program (ECOHAB).

Analysis uncovered that the organism possesses an extraordinary number of genes that exploit organic nutrients, trace metals, and even a lack of sunlight that hinders other species of algae. Before the first brown tide (also known as Aureococcus anophagefferens) in 1985, Long Island estuaries were once the source of nearly half the clams eaten in the U.S. The Peconic Bay scallop industry, once estimated to be worth more than $2 million annually, was virtually eradicated.

Total losses have been estimated at one billion dollars over the last decade. This research, performed by Stony Brook University, NY and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will allow managers to prescribe targeted pollution reduction strategies to prevent the proliferation of this destructive species.

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