Toxicologist John Ramsdell, branch chief scientist of the marine biotoxin lab in Charleston, told Discovery News that his team was conducting X-ray diffraction analysis, to identify what element in the periodic table this material was composed of, as well as electron microscopy imaging which provides a magnified view of the material that is 2,500 times what the human eye can see.
Taxonomist Steve Morton with the NOAA Charleston lab explained the diffraction analysis further. He told Discovery News that: "The EDS [Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy] told us that the cell wall was organic and not made of minerals. Many small protozoans have cell wall composed of different minerals. This was one pieces of evidence we used to narrow the possibilities."
The image at right shows the spines on the spores in detail as seen under electron microscopy. This technique also provided the image at the top of this blog that showed the substance was much smaller than first identified: slightly more than 10 microns in diameter. That took these mystery eggs and knocked them down into the spore range for sizes. The marine physiologists working with a network of specialists then identified the spores as belonging to the Pucciniales order of fungi, a plant parasite.
"The spores are unlike others we and our network of specialists have examined; however, many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified," reported Morton in a press release.
"Rust fungi reproduce to infect other plants by releasing spores which disperse often times great distances by wind and water. However, whether this spore belongs to one of the 7,800 known species of rust fungi has not yet been determined," announced the marine physiologists in the press release.