Scuba industry in danger?

Not really

It looks like the gillyweed from the Harry Potter films could one day be a reality.

Scientists have discovered a way for humans to potentially breathe underwater by merging our DNA with that of algae.

In research on salamanders they found that oxygen-producing algae have bonded with their eggs so closely that the two are now inseparable.

By studying the mechanism further, they hope that the same process could be applied to humans one day too.

In the film the slimy plant gives Harry gills on the side of his neck and lets him breathe underwater like a fish.

The real-life version however could work on a more fundamental level and change our DNA so that we are more like algae, which actually give off oxygen even though they are on the sea bed.

Researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, found that human DNA is packed with hundreds of viruses we have absorbed since mankind came to be.

They applied this theory to salamanders because algae often got stuck in their embryos – and found that some salamanders are literally part algae.

The algae does not leave as the salamander grows, meaning that by the time they are fully formed adults, salamanders are part plant.

It is hoped the same process would allow us to swim without coming up for air – just like Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.


The discovery is the first documented case of a plant living in partnership, or symbiosis, with a vertebrate.

Scientists have said that potentially it could mean that bio-engineers could one day use algae as a source of oxygen for other organisms that it pairs with – including humans.

Such a jump would require substantial testing but given we are vertebrates like salamanders, it is possible.

Lead researcher Dr. Ryan Kerney says: “The algae inside the egg capsules provide oxygen to the embryo and the algae gets waste from the embryo which is rich in the nitrogen the plant needs.

“We also found algae DNA in the reproductive organs of the adult salamanders, so it seems possible that it is being inherited.

“We call that vertical transmission, but there is probably a mixture of this and the algae being absorbed from the environment.”

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.