Mystery of the orange goo solved! (For real this time)

  Orange_goo

Remember that crazy orange goo that washed up recently in a small village on the northwest coast of Alaska? Residents were concerned it was toxic. Internet theorists thought it might be human-made. And after a series of tests, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that it was an enormous amount of microscopic eggs.

As it turns out, everyone was wrong.

On Thursday, NOAA issued a news release saying the orange goo is in fact fungal spores, not microscopic eggs.

Not long after the goo first appeared, scientists in Alaska sent samples of it to a place with a very long name: NOAA's National Oceanic Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, based in Charleston, S.C.

There, a team of specialists in microbiologic phenomena took a closer look. They found that the goo is consistent with spores from fungi that cause a disease called "rust." That disease infects only plants. (The disease's tell-tale sign: It causes a rust-like appearance on leaves and stems.)

There's still one mystery left, however. According to the NOAA news release, there are 7,800 species of rust that we know about, and scientists have not yet confirmed whether the goo belongs to one of those species or not.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Left, spores of the orange substance as seen last week. Right, a single “uredo”-spore as seen by a scanning electron microscope, plus a detail of its unusual spines. Credit: NOAA’s Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research laboratory.

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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