NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of a green algae and has found hundreds of genes that are “uniquely associated” with capturing carbon dioxide and generating biomass, the scientists said yesterday.
Among the more than 15,000 genes sequenced from the genome of single-celled Chlamydomonas reinhardtii were those that encode the structure and function of the chloroplast, which is responsible for converting light to chemical energy.
The sequence also provides a “glimpse back through time” to the last common ancestor of plants and animals, the researchers said.
The project, which appears in the Oct. 12 issue of Science, was led by the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute; the University of California, Los Angeles; the Carnegie Institution; and included contributions from more than 100 international collaborators.
Researchers have known for some time that the organism can be used as a model system for the study of photosynthesis and cell motility. The researchers also catalogued the organism’s genes that encode its flagella. According to the researchers, defects in these genes are associated with a “growing list” of human diseases.
”The genome is like a green time capsule that affords a view into the complex core machinery that gave rise to today's energy-capturing and oxygen-producing chloroplasts,” Daniel Rokhsar, DOE JGI Computational Biology Program head, said in a statement.
Rokhsar co-led the study with DOE JGI Computational Scientist Simon Prochnik, Arthur Grossman of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, and Sabeeha Merchant of UCLA. He said that their particular interest in the organism is its “keen ability to efficiently capture and convert sunlight into energy, and its role in managing the global pool of carbon.”
He added that the sequence will further enable other researchers to study biology-based solar energy capture, carbon assimilation, and detoxification of soils by employing algae to remove heavy metal contaminants.
The analysis will also shed light on how other algae can produce biodiesel and biocrude as alternatives to fossil fuels, and could help researchers figure out the construction of chloroplasts, which house the machinery inside plant and algal cells that can absorb sunlight and couple carbon dioxide and water to produce the starting materials that fuel all other metabolic processes, the scientists said in the statement.
Finally, the published analysis of the genome shows approximately 120 million nucleotides, and found that the algae shares nearly 7,000 genes with other organisms. More than a third of these are shared by both humans and flowering plants, which helps support the argument for their common ancestry, the scientists said.
Additional information about the project can be found here