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Genes from tiny marine algae suggest unsuspected avenues for new research
Date:4/10/2009

MOSS LANDING, CA By sequencing the DNA of two tiny marine algae, a team of scientists has opened up a myriad of possibilities for new research in algal physiology, plant biology, and marine ecology. The project was led by Alexandra Worden at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the Joint Genome Institute (JGI). The genome analyses involved a collaborative effort between MBARI, JGI, and an international consortium of scientists from multiple institutions, including University of Washington, Ghent University (Belgium), and Washington University in St. Louis. Initial discoveries from the research appear in the April 10, 2009 edition of Science magazine.

Biologists generally agree that all land plants, from tiny mosses to giant redwoods, evolved from an ancestral green alga. Some of the closest representatives of these ancestral green algae living today are thought to be the Prasinophytes, a group of microscopic green algae found across the world's oceans.

Microbial oceanographer Alexandra Worden led a team of scientists that sequenced the genomes of two Prasinophytes in the genus Micromonas. Each Micromonas cell is only about one fiftieth the width of a human hair. However, they are widespread and may serve as important links in marine food webs. They may also influence the amount of carbon dioxide the oceans take up from the atmosphere.

Worden's team spent four years compiling a complete list of the approximately 21 million chemical building blocks (called bases) that make up Micromonas' DNA. The recent Science paper highlights key aspects of this genetic "Morse code." The paper also compares Micromonas' genes with genes found in other organisms.

A microscopic alga with leaves?

Worden and her fellow researchers discovered that Micromonas carries a significant number of genes that are not found in the genomes of other green algae (at least not
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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