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Talk: The relationship between algae and spotted salamander eggs

Feb 22, 2021
Pictured are spotted salamander egg masses.

Camden — John Burns, of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, will lead an online presentation called “From Roommates to Intimate Partners,” about the symbiotic relationship between algae and spotted salamander eggs and larva, hosted by Merryspring Nature Center Tuesday, March 9, 2021, at noon.

Many Mainers are familiar with the "Big Night" that comes near the beginning of each spring, when yellow spotted salamanders migrate en masse from their underground hideouts to their spring breeding pools. In vernal pools they mate and lay their eggs, which swell to form a dense jelly mass holding around 100 embryos each. These eggs and embryos are colonized by a tiny green alga, which have adapted to one another to both benefit from this arrangement. Even more astonishing, the alga invades the baby salamander tissues and cells forming the only known such association in any vertebrate. In this talk, Burns will speak about the salamander-alga association and discuss the context of why it is currently under intense scrutiny. The uniqueness of the interaction has implications for the development of our own adaptive immune system.

Burns is a senior research scientist working at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. He received his bachelor's degree in geoscience from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and a master's and doctorate in molecular biology from New York University. He spent five years working on evolutionary biology and symbioses involving protists and algae at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, before starting his own research group in Maine.

Today he continues to work on symbiotic interactions, how DNA codes the shapes of cells, and how genetic patterns influence microbe functions in the world's oceans. Learn more about his research at

This talk is part of Merryspring’s Online Winter Talk series. All online talks will be held as Zoom webinars. Access to a computer or smart device is required. All guests must request a meeting link by emailing to attend. Those who have not received a requested link by 11 a.m. on the morning of the program, should email . Online talks are open to everybody, free of charge.

Merryspring is located at the end of Conway Road, just off of Route 1 in Camden behind Hannaford Shopping Plaza. For more information, contact or call 236-2239.

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