August 19, 2011

Alaskan Village’s Mysterious Goo Is Fungal Spores

According to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the mysterious goo that was found after washing up to the shorelines in a village in Alaska is made up of fungal spores.

The new analysis corrected an announcement made last week by Alaska-based NOAA scientists who initially determined that the material was a conglomeration of microscopic eggs or embryos despoiled by a form of crustacean.

NOAA said scientists from the agency's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research performed a follow-up examination on a sample sent from Alaska and determined the material was fungal, not the product of crustaceans.

The agency said the material was consistent with spores from fungi that cause "rust," which is a disease that infects plants by causing a rust-like color on them.

"The spores are unlike others we and our network of specialists have examined; however, many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified," Steve Morton, a scientist with the NOAA Charleston lab, said in a statement.

The material first appeared in the water and on coastlines of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo village of 400 residents.

The residents of the village initially feared the material might be pollution from a nearby Red Dog Mine, which is the world's largest zinc producer.  However, early test determined it was a biological material, not mining waste or a petroleum product.

Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for NOAA's National Fisheries Service in Alaska, said the orange material has washed away from Kivalina.

She said the material was most likely harmless.

"Rust is a disease that only affects plants, so there's no cause for alarm," she said, adding that details about its origins remained a mystery.

"There just has not been a lot of research done on rust fungi in the Arctic. This is one that we've never encountered before that we know of," she said.


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