Weird Medicine

Algae Inside Blood Vessels: Oxygen Factories?

Blue green algae is a bacteria found in water that could have potential health benefits. Pixabay

In today’s weird-things-nature-is-capable-of-that-you-might-not-be-aware-of is a rather strange mash-up; apparently, tadpole blood vessels have algae living inside them that work to pump out oxygen for oxygen-starved nerve cells that are just nearby. Um, okay?

“In the beginning, it sounds really funny. But it works, so why not? I think it has great potential,” Suzan Özugur, neurobiologist, said. She, along with neurobiologist Hans Straka made the discovery with their colleagues after continuously bubbling oxygen into severed tadpole heads to keep the nerve cells active. However, after talking with some botanists, Straka got the idea to instead use algae, and see if it will work, stating that it’s an unconventional idea that deserves a shot.

From there, the researchers injected either cyanobacteria (Synechocystis) or green algae (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) into the tadpole's head. Since both species of algae make oxygen in response to light, the algae injection resulted into an animal with an eerie greenish color.

The researchers then depleted the surrounding oxygen in a tadpole’s disembodied head, which resulted in nerves that stopped firing signals and started falling silent. However, nerves started firing signals again after a few minutes, started by a flash of light that activated the algae.

Numerous reactions were then made, including “Frankenstein” to “Wow, that’s really cool.”

Per Straka, this discovery opens many possibilities in the future, including that of using algae as local oxygen factories in the brain (which can lead to developing therapies for strokes or other damage from an insufficient amount of oxygen) and even using algae in the veins of astronauts to help them with long-haul space missions.

However, as for now, it’s generally unclear how long it would take before the algae can no longer survive in the blood vessels. And since the research was done on disembodied tadpole subjects, it’s unclear if living animals – or humans – would be able to tolerate these extra guests.

For now, Straka’s team plans on studying whether the algae can also do other jobs in the brain. According to him, the algae may also be used to supply glucose into nerve cells, or even some molecules that help influence the behavior of the same nerve cells.

algae A virus commonly found in algae somehow made its way into people's throats, reducing their ability to perform certain tasks. Reuters