the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Wider Band Chlorophyll Discovered

Posted by Jeff Id on August 24, 2010

I don’t have time for much blogging today.  Geoff Sherrington sent a link to a different article about this a couple of days ago.  It’s interesting because the expanded collection range of this chlorophyll would improve efficiency sligtly for biofuel type solutions. It doesn’t sound like anywhere near enough to make biofuel viable but they’ve only just begun exploring the new chemical.


Australian scientists discover first new chlorophyll in 60 years

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) — Australian scientists have stumbled upon the first new chlorophyll to be discovered in over 60 years, according to a study published Friday in journal Science.

Found by accident in stromatolites from Western Australia’s Shark Bay, the new pigment named chlorophyll f can utilize lower light energy than any other known chlorophyll. It is the fifth known type of chlorophyll molecule on Earth.

25 Responses to “Wider Band Chlorophyll Discovered”

  1. Brian H said

    Now we need chlorophyll that uses UV and X-rays!

  2. Gary said

    Now if they could find photosynthetic pigments that capture photons from the middle of the visible spectrum that are more efficient than carotene and xanthophyll … And then there’s that pesky photo-inhibition problem …

  3. ecoeng said

    What is not commonly known, even in the scientific community of algologists is that even the 2nd most common cyanobacterium (blue-green alga) in the oceans, Synechococcus, is perfectly capable of surviving, albeit at lower population densities for indefinite periods in what appears to be the complete absence of light.

    Being a consulting geochemist to the mining industry, about 5 years ago I discovered, quite by accident, that Synechococcus, introduced into the ventilation airstream of a working underground coal mine <10 km from the ocean had the ability to then innoculate itself into the collapsed, partly flooded, sealed-off longwall workings ('goafs') of the mine and survive there!

    The identification of their cells under my supervision has been done many, many times by three different fully qualified, experienced, reputable algologists. It is beyond all doubt.

    These goafs are routinely sealed off after mining by bulkheads but have small siphons to enable drainage/monitoring of intenral water levels. Direct sampling of water flowing out of these siphons (into opaque bottles with Lugols iodine preservative) showed a Synechococcus population in the brackish (wekaly saline) water therein of typically around 1000 cells/mL – about 10 x lower than in the ocean.

    How this can occurs is totally unknown and has not been able to be explained by a number of eminent US algologists I have discussed this with. At their suggestion, I also commissioned PCR work looking for the common Vibrio species of marine bioluminescent bacteria (thinking they might be a sufficient light source) but we could not find any. A marine algologist at Sydney University has written a report about this phenomenon suggested more work is required and I'd be happy to send that to anyone interested.

    The implication seems to be that Synechococcus is, in fact, able to survive in a fully heterotrophic, non-photosynthetic mode indefinitely – probably with the aid of a 'quorum-sensing' consortia of other wild bacteria.

    Further work has suggested that the Synechococcus may also be accompanied by larger populations of the (much smaller) picocyanbacterium Prochlorococcus (which occurs in the oceans at about 100,000 cells/mL) but this is less certain due to identification difficulties deriving from their their small cell size and the fact that other 'wild' bacteria are also present. Its a sort of microbiological 'jungle in the dark' down there!

    The discovery of chlorophyll f and the finding of growth in absolute darkness in coal mines of the most common marine cyanobacteria which I briefly describe above above are just examples of why so much of the current AGW lobby's dogmatic hubris over the complex, and powerful, role of the oceanic cyanobacteria in global climate is so dangerously unreliable.

    We still know so very little about what really happens (everywhere) across this planet at the microbiological level.

  4. Jeff Id said

    #3 that’s a very interesting comment. Are these algae known to live in cracks in the rock as well??

  5. ecoeng said

    Not to my knowledge.

  6. ianl8888 said


    Sounds like Westcliff :)

    Can you give us a simple list of how you think this bacterium is actually surviving in the goaf, please ? Ie. oxygenation, food etc

    [I'm a long-term mining geologist]

  7. ecoeng said

    Dendrobium Mine Areas 1&2 actually – West Cliff is somewhat further from the sea (;-)

    We use blue-green algae as a possible tracer to check for (mine subsidence-induced) sub-vertical fracture fast flow paths down from Lake Cordeaux above/adjacent. Algal cells are known to remain intact and microscopically identifiable up to a maximum of ~100 days after cell death if it involves removal from their native environment (i.e. when not subject to predation or bacterial decomposition). We use tritium for the must slower stuff.

    Send me your email and I’ll send you Dr. John Runcie’s (Sydney Uni.) assessment report.

  8. Brian H said

    Not only is there microbiological life everywhere it can conceivably be, it is in many places we can’t conceive it being, obviously! If there’re energy gradients to be had, something is probably exploiting them (short of incendiary temps — I think!) ;)

  9. Brian H said

    Have you mining geologs heard of the speculation/hypothesis/theory that gold veins are the result of bacterial action, concentrating and excreting it into the patterns we find?

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  11. ianl8888 said

    Thanks, Ecoeng

    I admit that jeff Id’s Vent was probably the last place I expected to find hard evidence that photoalgae survive in the complete dark of a longwall goaf !!

  12. Don Keiller said

    What no one has said here is that all chlorophylls also have a strong absorbance band at about 420nm (blue).
    Oxygenic photosynthesis requires a balance of both short and long wavelength absorbtion.

    I suspect that what we are seeing here is a more extreme version of the well-understood “Emerson Enhancement effect” where light of short wavelength (less than 680nm) can increase the quantum efficiency of longer wavelength light (>700nm).

    Finally blue green algae (cyanobacteria) also contain a range of accessory pigments (phycocyanins and phycoerythrins) that transfer absorbed light energy (in the range 495-620 nm) very efficiently to chlorophyll a. As a result they can do positive photosynthesis at astonishingly low light levels.

  13. ecoeng said

    I would certainly agree that that is true deep in the oceanic water column or deep in the water column of some freshwater lakes.

    However, I am not certain that it is true in the apparent pitch darkness of the ‘goafs’ (i.e. collapsed, completed underground coal mine workings where all solid surfaces are coal or dark shales).

    I note that the phenomenon now known as quorum sensing is very powerful in the ocean and responsible for example for the glowing sea surfaces at night stretching for many square miles which ships have historicallly recorded for centuries (and has now often been photographed by satellites).

    Under those circumstances certain luminescent bacteria (often Vibrio spp) signal cyanobacteria (with specific small biomolecules) to bloom and when in turn the cyanobacteria do then bloom, they feed the Vibrio bacteria with the spilled contents of their dying cells. A sort of orgy of mutual mass altruism occurs following some sort of trigger!

    I suspect something similar goes on underground in flooded mines and caves etc where e.g. luminescent bacteria, perhaps autotrophs growing on the high free energy surfaces of trace sulfides (common in coal and shale), signal cyanobacteria which in turn increase the DOC (dissolved organic carbon) of the water to their own advantage. It is not commonly known that groundwaters in contact with coal and shales generally has respectable levels of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient species.

    If life arose within the porous columns of deep ocean ‘black smokers’ (as is now suspected) then the prevalence of episodes of altruistic quorum sensing within microbiological consortia is probably nearly as old as life itself.

    There is in principal nothing to stop humans eventually subtly manipulating biochemically this pre-existing web of quorum sensing (which has evolved over billions of years) in the oceans at a molecular level to enhance photosynthesis both in the day and at night and hence the ocean’s rate of CO2 uptake.


  14. Paul linsay said


    An off the wall question, does this have any relavance to Thomas Gold’s abiotic theory for the formation of oil?

  15. ianl8888 said

    Quote from Ecoeng:

    “However, I am not certain that it is true in the apparent pitch darkness of the ‘goafs’ (i.e. collapsed, completed underground coal mine workings where all solid surfaces are coal or dark shales). ”

    Not “apparent” – absolute. We are talking about areas up to 400+m underground, the side entries to which are progressively sealed (to prevent re-oxygenation), which have NO light at all. People who are discussing “low-level” light sources down there genuinely do not understand this environment

  16. ecoeng said

    Hi Ian

    I only used the word ‘apparent’ because in reality, you must concede that humans haven’t made detailed or lengthy observations of light levels within coal mine goafs precisely because they are soon sealed off these day and develop, after sealing, high methane, nitrogen low oxygen atmospheres (but not zero oxygen I note as the presence of low and variable levels of sulfate and nitrate shows). I am able to easily model the atmosphere of the goaf waters using PHREEQC modeling of their water chemistry (which includes dissolved CH4 measurements).

    While I agree that goafs are, in principal, absolutely dark in a physical sense, we have to remind ourselves that, in a strict sense, we don’t have any actual verification of that e.g. with in situ photometers – as far as I know.

    We therefore have to ask ourselves how (some0 goafs could sustain Synechococcus populations averaging in the order of 1000 cells/mL – only one order of magnitude below the surface layers of the open ocean. I note that our measurement show quitet variable populations – ranging from as high at 10 – 20,000 cells/mL on occasion(!!!!) down to ~100 cells/mL on others for samples collected from the same bulkhead siphons (once each month).

    It is hard to imagine that Synechococcus could sustain themselves by heterotrophic growth indefinitely – although they probably can for ‘extended’ periods (whatever that may be) – Dr. John Runcie noted in his report.

    However, I take the view that there probably are periodic phases of bioluminescence e.g. by bacteria residing on the surface of some very bioactive goaf minerals such as sulfide (noting that it is a jumble of highly fractured surface from roof collapse and compensatory floor heave.

    I have proposed a hypothesis for how that might explain the observed oscillatory pattern of Synechococcus populations using as an analogy the known phenomenon of marine quorum sensing between bioluminescent Vibrio species and phytoplankton.

    FYI, there is quite a long and remarkable historical record from Polish underground coal mines of a bioluminescent worm which is luminescent by virtue of a type of bacteria that lives in/on the worm’s skin mucosa.

  17. KuhnKat said

    Great discovery, but, hardly affects the real issue with biofuels. Water use will not change.

  18. ecoeng said

    Water use does not have to be a significant issue with oil-rich algae-derived biodiesel production. While past algal cultivation technology has generally used lagoons, current pilot trials are using thin films of algae-containing slurry running down both sides of sheets of plastic film.

    A chemical engineer associate has done some calculations which suggest a typical 1 GW coal fired power station could biosequester all its CO2 using algae-containing water passing counter current style down through a structure than looks not too much different to a glassed-in, large, multi-level, major city car park.

    The algae are hydrocycloned from the water (secondary sewage effluent would be an ideal makeup water) to make a pumpable 75% solids slurry (which BTW has a carbon content/unit volume equal to liquid CO2)and most of the water is recirculated.

  19. ianl8888 said

    Hello Ecoeng

    Your quote:

    ” … you must concede that humans haven’t made detailed or lengthy observations of light levels within coal mine goafs precisely because they are soon sealed off … ”

    I agree I haven’t made lengthy or detailed observations, but somewhat stupidly perhaps, I have been in several goaves for up to 45 minutes (I would much rather NOT say why or where) where I have turned my cap lamp off for up to 30 seconds so I could concentrate purely on listening… if there was light in there, it was beyond the wavelength of human eyesight

    I’ve also many times been mapping alone in disused panels. Again, turning off my cap lamp for short periods magnified hearing acuity for water drips etc. And again, absolutely pitch black

    But I do agree with this quote from you:

    “I take the view that there probably are periodic phases of bioluminescence e.g. by bacteria residing on the surface of some very bioactive goaf minerals such as sulfide (noting that it is a jumble of highly fractured surface from roof collapse and compensatory floor heave.”

    One interesting question line from this is: does the phenomenon of photoalgae living in watery goaves only occur in mines where pyrites is common on the shale joints and coal cleats ? The sulphide is not accumulated on mining-induced fractures

  20. ecoeng said

    I’ve sent you an extract from one of my reports for BHPB which shows that the concentration of Synechococcus cells in longwall goaf rises dramatically (orders of magnitude) at around the same time that there are sharp rises in goaf water sulfate and silicon concentrations diagnostic of in situ block fall events.

  21. ianl8888 said


    Yes, thank you for the extract. It’s a very interesting topic

    The main point for me here is that “block” falls of say, the Wombarra Shale tend to fail along the bedding planes and joints. Fresh fractures will occur as the larger shards land from freefall, but such fractures will not have accumulated pyrites on the fracture planes. The level of pyrites in the fabric of a typical shale is generally low (<0.3%), exceptions are found of course – mostly the pyrites has palaeo-accumulated along the bed and joint planes from groundwater percolation (I know you know this)

    So this leads to the fascinating question: if a goaf groundwater is saline enough for the tracer photoalgae that you use to survive, does it indeed do so in goaves that lack significant SO4 derived from dissolution of pyrites ? That is, can these algae survive in a goafwater that is essentially SO4 free, although with the required saline concentration ?

  22. ecoeng said

    You are hitting several nails on the head.

    While goafs (goaves? – I never resolved that one – even some old Yorkshire miners I know insist on saying ‘goafs’ oddly enough) can apparently retain weakly suboxic conditions for a very long time – like years, even, eventually they do seem to go completely anaerobic i.e. then SO4 (and NOx-N) is completely absent and dissolved CH4 gets up to ~2000 ug/L.

    Such goafs e.g. the old Nebo Mine workings, are then completely algae-free.

  23. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: ecoeng (Aug 25 23:37),

    And what else is going to grow in that water besides algae? Can you say Legionnaires Disease? There was more than one reason why people used to put chromate in their cooling tower water.

  24. ianl8888 said


    “Such goafs e.g. the old Nebo Mine workings, are then completely algae-free.”

    Yes, that seems to buttress your concept of the photoalgae energising from bacteria feeding off SO4. It pretty well answers my question :)

    Most literate reports I’ve ever seen (in over 30 years) use “goaves” as plural. I’ve also worked in the UK, where the most common usage is “goaves”. The Americans refer to “gobs”, of course

    Thank you for engaging on some goaf geochemistry I was only vaguely aware of. Much appreciated

    In relation to DeWitt Payne’s comment, in my (very) long sojourn in mining geology, we were periodically approached by various groups claiming that some new strain of bug they had developed would eat any nasties that may be present in the minewater effluent. Case-hardened managers would simply ask: “Yes, but what do they crap ?”

    Chromate is generally used to precipitate Pb – but whether this is present or not depends exactly on the chemistry of the overlying strata, wherefrom percolating groundwater sources it’s chemistry. Easy to measure – that’s why background geochemistry from surface streams and creeks is done first. Ecoeng’s own territory …

  25. Geoff Sherrington said

    It was my hope that we could now go beyond goafs to see what implications might reside in the discovery of this new chlorophyll, factors affecting balance calculations of light, heat, energy etc on a global scale.

    I suspect that the quantitative consequences are small, but I do make the point that just when we think that we know all about a subject …..

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