The periodical nature reports that it is the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum ("The Phaeodactylum genome reveals the evolutionary history of diatom genomes" nature online, October 15th 2008).
The researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association who participated in the research project concentrated primarily on this diatom's evolution.
The genes of marine organisms have increasingly been investigated for some years - at first only those of bacteria which have a relatively small genome. By now, micro algae are also at the focus of the researchers' attention. They belong to the phytoplankton, the basis of the marine food chain. The probably most important group, the diatoms, plays a particular role. These algae are responsible for 40 percent of marine photosynthesis; this corresponds to a worldwide proportion of 20 percent. Diatoms have an important function in the earth's carbon dioxide balance.
The researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute are particularly concerned with the evolution of diatoms within the framework of this research project. These algae form a symbiosis of several cell types which distinguishes them from land plants. Traces of different cell types have been found in the genome of Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and its proportion of the metabolism of algae species has also been analysed at the Alfred Wegener Institute. It has been shown that the diatom possesses a broad spectrum of photosynthesis genes which might have contributed to its success in the seas.
Not only the photosynthetic performance is interesting for the researchers, but also the highly robust shells of the diatoms as well as their capacity to produce large quantities of high-quality vegetable oils - the well known omega-3 fatty acids. Actually, these oils come primarily from diatoms and they make fish such a precious food source. Energy producers have recently shown an interest in diatoms. The oils of diatoms could be used as bio fuels, replacing diesel fuel.
The paper "The Phaeodactylum genome reveals the evolutionary history of diatom genomes" will be published online in the periodical nature October 15th 2008.
The Alfred Wegener Institute carries out research in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as in the high and mid latitude oceans. The institute coordinates German polar research and makes available to international science important infrastructure, e.g. the research icebreaker "Polarstern" and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of 15 research centres within the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, Germany's largest scientific organization.
Margarete Pauls | idw
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