Vitamin B sampling could explain algae blooms, ocean health

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A group of USC scientists has developed a new way to track vitamins believed essential to marine life, and they’re making it public.

In the 1960s, researchers hypothesized that some parts of the ocean are deficient in B vitamins.

The same organic compounds thought essential to helping people get energy from the food we eat may influence how well tiny plant-like organisms do in the sea. Those phytoplankton are essential to the marine food web.

USC’s team, along with researchers from the University of Hawaii and a Mexican university in Ensenada, traced B vitamins in different depths of water along the California coast to Baja Mexico. They inventoried the B vitamins in concentrated water samples; that’s a new technique.

They found depleted B vitamins in the parts of the ocean believed least healthy, where the oxygen is low. A lack of nutrients could influence how tiny plankton grow; these scientists suspect that B vitamins could influence red tides, big algae blooms that are toxic.

USC’s team says it still has to work toward understand differing cycles for various kinds of B vitamins. The next place researchers will do that is in Hawaii.

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