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Chalking up a marine blooming alga: Genome fills a gap in the tree of life
Date:6/14/2013

To World War II soldiers, "The White Cliffs of Dover" was a morale-boosting song that lifted spirits in dark times. To geographers, the white cliffs mark the point at which England is closest to continental Europe. To scientists, the white cliffs are towering structures made of the chalky, white shells that envelop the single-celled photosynthetic alga known as Emiliania huxleyi. "Ehux" is a coccolithophore, with an exoskeleton made of calcium carbonate. Even though the process by which the alga's "armor" forms releases carbon dioxide, Ehux can trap as much as 20 percent of organic carbon, derived from CO2, in some marine ecosystems.

Ehux and its brethren are the basis of most ocean food chains. Phytoplankton biomass exceeds that of all marine animals combined. Activities of Ehux and some other phytoplankton such as diatoms influence climate processes, such as lowering ocean temperatures by reflecting sunlight and through carbon metabolism. Its versatility in either contributing to primary production of organic compounds from carbon dioxide or adding to CO2 emissions makes Ehux a critical player in the marine carbon cycle. Sequenced by the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), the Ehux genome was compared with sequences from other algal isolates and the results reported in the June 12 edition of Nature.

"Carbon dioxide is fixed during photosynthesis and calcification," said Betsy Read, a professor of biological sciences at California State University, San Marcos who led the large international consortium of 75 researchers from a dozen nations exploring Ehux and the first author of this paper. "It is also released during the process of calcification, but we do not know how this release balances with the amount of CO2 that is buried when Ehux sinks to the bottom of the ocean. This is an important yet unresolved question."

Part of the third most abundant group of phytoplankton, behind the diatoms and di
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Contact: David Gilbert
degilbert@lbl.gov
925-296-5643
DOE/Joint Genome Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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