PUNE: Scientists have discovered two new species of diatoms – a kind of algae – at Lonar Lake in Buldhana district in Maharashra.
Though the environment of soda lakes is usually considered hostile for living beings, often many photosynthesizing organisms like algae, including diatoms are recorded in these places. The Lonar crater lake is a unique saline soda lake formed when a meteor struck around 50,000 years ago, and the discovery of new species points to the thriving biodiversity of the lake.
Karthick Balasubramanian, a scientist in the plant division at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) and one of the four researchers who discovered these species, explained that diatoms are one of the most ecologically significant group of organisms and each species is specific to their environment with unique characteristics. “These two species were found to be extremely pollution-tolerant, indicating the presence of large quantities of Nitrogen and Phosphate in the water body,” he said.
Scientists from city-based ARI have been studying the microbial biodiversity of this ancient lake for more than a decade.
The two species are named Nitzschia kociolekii and Nitzschia tripudio. The first species is named afterProfessor J Patrick Kociolek, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, a known face of diatom research.
“Diatoms are special types of algae that live inside ‘glass houses’ – they have hard outer shells made of silicon and oxygen, the same elements that make up glass,” Balasubramanian said. These outer casings are made of two half cylinders that fit together like a jewellery box. Inside is a single celled organism that can carry out photosynthesis and they are responsible for almost one fourth of the oxygen produced on Earth.
The other scientists involved in the study were Alakananda Batni from Gubbi Labs, Bangalore, Paul B Hamilton from Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada and Jonathan C Taylor associated with North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.
The species are characterized by minute structures on its surface, known as areolae on diatom valves, that helps in exchange of gases and nutrients. The areolae and the valve shape state the evolutionary pattern of common species due to extreme environments like saline conditions and nutrients.
“This discovery is also significant as this is a relatively unexplored region of peninsular India,” Balasubramanian added. “These species also show environmental importance and can be used as biological indicators, as they thrive in polluted regions and could be endemic to Peninsular India.”
Another species of the same organism, Nitzschia williamsii, was recently described from Bangalore lakes by the same team and has also been recorded from Lonar Lake. This indicates that several extreme waterbodies in India, like Mangrove forests, estuaries, and waterfalls, might harbor numerous species endemic to Peninsular India.
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