"What's particularly intriguing about Volvox is that it has learned how to selectively turn down photosynthesis or channel it to support another cell type," said DOE JGI collaborator and co-first author Jim Umen at the Salk Institute. "While we don't yet understand this trait well, it could factor into how photosynthetic organisms can be engineered to do what we want, such as make biofuels or other products, rather than what they typically do, which is grow and make more of themselves."
"The fundamental developmental biology interest in studying the Volvocine algae is that a single cell ancestor has evolved multicellularity and complicated cellular processes in a short evolutionary period," explained DOE JGI bioinformaticist and co-first author Simon Prochnik. What the team found, he said, is "an astonishing lack of innovation" in the Volvox genome when compared with Chlamydomonas, particularly given their completely different morphologies. "The notion that 'if you're small, you're simple' is starting to unravel. The more unicellular organisms we sequence, the more we see this."
Analysis revealed there were approximately 1,800 protein families unique to Volvox and Chlamydomonas. These families likely have served as a rich source of genetic material for generating the developmental and morphological changes in the multicellular species, particularly as some of the families contain proteins known to be associated with multicellularity. How they are used differently in Volvox versus Chlamydomonas, despite being shared, is a question for future research. "The Volvox genome adds immense value to the Chlamydomonas genome project, and to a refin
|Contact: David Gilbert|
DOE/Joint Genome Institute