Historically, scientists have found it difficult to study the behavior of these tiny animals because the single-cell creatures can quickly swim out of a microscope's shallow field of focus. But in recent years this problem has been solved through the use of digital holographic microscopy, which can capture three-dimensional images of the troublesome microbes. The technique was pioneered by Katz.
In a study published in 2007, Katz, Place and Jian Sheng, who was Katz's doctoral student, were part of a team that reported the use of digital holographic microscopy to view the swimming behavior of K. veneficum and Pfiesteria piscicida. At the time, it appeared that K. veneficum slowed down into a "stealth mode" in order to ambush its prey while P. piscicida sped up to capture prey.
For the new paper, in which Sheng is lead author, the researchers used the same technique to more closely study the relationship between K. veneficum and its prey, a common, single-celled algal cell called a cryptophyte. They found that K. veneficum microbes release toxins to stun and immobilize their prey prior to ingestion, probably to increase the success rate of their hunt and to promote their growth.
This significantly shifts the understanding about what permits harmful algal blooms to form and grow, the researchers said. Instead of being a self-defense mechanism, the microbes' production of poison appears to be more closely related to growth through the ingestion of a "pre-packaged" food source, the cryptophyte cell, they concluded.
"In the paper, we have answered why these complicated [toxic] molecules are made
|Contact: Phil Sneiderman|
Johns Hopkins University