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Continuous measurements of volatile gases as detection of algae crop health.


Algae cultivation in open raceway ponds is considered the most economical method for photosynthetically producing biomass for biofuels, chemical feedstocks, and other high-value products. One of the primary challenges for open ponds is diminished biomass yields due to attack by grazers, competitors, and infectious organisms. Higher-frequency observations are needed for detection of grazer infections, which can rapidly reduce biomass levels. In this study, real-time measurements were performed using chemical ionization mass spectrometry (CIMS) to monitor the impact of grazer infections on cyanobacterial cultures. Numerous volatile gases were produced during healthy growth periods from freshwater Synechococcus elongatus Pasteur Culture Collection (PCC) 7942, with 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one serving as a unique metabolic indicator of exponential growth. Following the introduction of a Tetrahymena ciliate grazer, the concentrations of multiple volatile species were observed to change after a latent period as short as 18 h. Nitrogenous gases, including ammonia and pyrroline, were found to be reliable indicators of grazing. Detection of grazing by CIMS showed indicators of infections much sooner than traditional methods, microscopy, and continuous fluorescence, which did not detect changes until 37 to 76 h after CIMS detection. CIMS analysis of gases produced by PCC 7942 further shows a complex temporal array of biomass-dependent volatile gas production, which demonstrates the potential for using volatile gas analysis as a diagnostic for grazer infections. Overall, these results show promise for the use of continuous volatile metabolite monitoring for the detection of grazing in algal monocultures, potentially reducing current grazing-induced biomass losses, which could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

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