Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have now determined that the mysterious orange goo that washed up on the shores of an Alaskan village a few weeks ago was fungal spores and not microscopic eggs, as an initial analysis indicated.
The new analysis corrected an announcement made last week by Alaska-based NOAA scientists, who had initially identified the mysterious substance as millions of microscopic eggs filled with fatty droplets.
As per standard scientific procedure, the strange orange substance was sent off to a NOAA lab in South Carolina for further testing after the initial results from the Juneau laboratory were released.
At NOAA's National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, based in Charleston, S.C., a team of scientists did a follow-up examination on a sample sent from Alaska and determined that the substance was consistent with spores from fungi that cause rust, a disease that infects only plants causing a rust-like appearance on leaves and stems.
Rust fungi reproduce to infect other plants by releasing spores which are often dispersed over great distances by wind and water.
However, the mystery still remains as it is yet to be determined whether this spore belongs to any of the 7,800 known species of rust fungi.
“At this point, the best identification we can give as to the origin of these spores is a rust fungus. 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,” said, Steve Morton, Ph.D., with the NOAA Charleston lab.
To solve the mystery, scientists need the host of the spores and the fruiting body, akin to the mushroom stage.
Earlier this month, the orange substance was first found in the water and on coastlines of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community of 400, at the tip of a barrier reef on Alaska's northwest coast.
It was also found in the Wulik River, which flows into the lagoon and is a source of drinking water for the villagers.
Villagers have suspended storing water from the river fearing that the substance might be pollution from the nearby Red Dog Mine, the world's largest zinc producer.
However, early tests of the gooey material by scientists showed that it was a biological material and not mining waste or a petroleum product from the nearby Red Dog Mine.
The sticky orange material, which dried into a powder, has washed away from Kivalina, said Julie Speegle, spokeswoman for NOAA's National Fisheries Service in Alaska, Reuters reported.
Speegle said the material was likely harmless. Rust is a disease that only affects plants, so there's no cause for alarm.