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LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- Utah State University researchers are looking at whether a substance used to improve manmade snow can damage a root fungus that benefits Utah's alpine forests.
University biologists say they may be able to alter the bacterium to make it harmless, but they're years away from finding a solution.
"The next step in our research is to go out into the forest or onto the ski slopes to begin documenting any effects that are being caused by Snomax," said biology professor Jon Takemoto.
York Snow Inc. of Victor, N.Y., says the product contains an ice-nucleating protein derived from a naturally occurring bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae. The company insists Snomax is safe.
"Once people submit to real research information, there's no issue," said Jay Collins, York's western regional manager.
Camille Swasey, a graduate student working on the project, said researchers should be able to measure any damage from Snomax within a year.
Snomax threatens a root-associated fungi that plants depend on to process nutrients and water, Takemoto said. Over several years, he said, the deterioration of these fungi could denude tree-covered hills at Utah ski resorts that use the product.
"It takes a while for this (fungus) to get down into the soil, and they (Utah ski resorts) have only been spraying heavily for the past five years," said Henry Nowak, manager of Utah State's Small Business Accelerator.
Through greenhouse testing, Swasey found the more Snomax was applied to the plants, the less they grew.
Snomax is used by some Utah ski resorts outside of Little and Big Cottonwood canyons, which are protected for their water supplies. It isn't cheap, and smaller ski areas such as Beaver Mountain rely on Mother Nature to cover the slopes.
Snomax is mixed in water to form a concentrate that is metered into the snowmaking water supply. It seeds every water droplet sprayed from snow guns.
"The key to efficient snowmaking is to freeze as many droplets as possible before they hit the ground," the company's Web site says.
On the Net: York Snow Inc.: http://www.yorksnow.com
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)