Bioluminescent bacteria illuminate pollution in Florida estuary

By on December 19, 2011

Marine biologist Edith Widder has studied bioluminescence in sea animals for years. Many ocean creatures depend on the trait for survival. Widder has harnessed bioluminescent bacteria to indicate pollution levels in a Florida estuary, which could promote survival of even more native species.

Indian River Lagoon stretches for 156 miles down Florida’s east coast, and is one of North America’s most diverse estuaries with about 4,200 plant and animal species. It is also one of the most threatened. Widder can detect how much pollution is in the water by mixing sediment from the estuary with the glowing bacteria, then using a photometer to measure how much the light dims as toxic chemicals kill the bacteria. Using this method to trace chemicals and real-time data sensors to record current and flow, researchers can find the sources of estuary pollution. According to the New York Times, Widder’s methods are faster and more cost efficient than sending water and sediments samples to be analyzed in a lab.


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