Genes from tiny algae shed light on carbon management in world’s oceans

April 10th, 2009 - 3:57 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 10 (ANI): In a new study, scientists have decoded genomes of two algal strains, highlighting the genes enabling them to capture carbon and maintain its delicate balance in the oceans.

The team of scientists was from two-dozen research organizations led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

The study sampled two geographically diverse isolates of the photosynthetic algal genus Micromonas-one from the South Pacific, the other from the English Channel.

The analysis identified approximately 10,000 genes in each, compressed into genomes totaling about 22 million nucleotides.

“Yet, surprisingly, they are far more diverse than we originally thought,” said team leader Alexandra Z. Worden of MBARI. “These two picoeukaryotes, often considered to be the same species, only share about 90 percent of their genes,” she added.

Worden said that the algae’s divergent gene complement may cause them to access and respond to the environment differently.

“This also means that as the environment changes, these different populations will be subject to different effects, and we don’t know whether they will respond in a similar fashion,” she added.

She said that their apparently broad physiological range might result in increased resilience as compared to closely related species, enabling them to survive environmental change better than organisms with a narrower geographic range.

Testing the hypotheses developed through cataloging their respective inventory of genes, Worden said, will go a long way towards understanding their biology and ecology.

“Genome sequencing of Micromonas and the subsequent comparative analysis with other algae previously sequenced by DOE JGI and Genoscope (France), have proven immensely powerful for elucidating the basic ‘toolkit’ of genes integral not only to the effective carbon cycling capabilities of green algae, but to those they have in common with land plants,” said Eddy Rubin, DOE JGI Director.

Tiny Micromonas, less than two microns in diameter, or roughly a 50th of the width of a human hair, are one of the few globally distributed marine algal species, thriving throughout the world’s oceans from the tropics to the poles.

They capture CO2, sunlight, water, and nutrients and produce carbohydrates and oxygen.

Their productivity, which provides food resources within marine food webs, as well as their knack for capturing carbon, and influencing the carbon flux that may have bearing on climate change, make these algae keen target of study. (ANI)

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