Alga most sucessful life form

2013-06-13 07:30

((William West, AFP))

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Paris - It's just a tiny thing - a single-celled organism visible only under a microscope - yet it is one of the most successful life forms on the planet.

So say scientists who on Wednesday published the DNA code of an ocean alga called Emiliania huxleyi, whose astonishing adaptability enables it to thrive in waters from the equator to the sub-Arctic.

Known under the more useful moniker of "Ehux", the alga has a thin, hard, chalky shell of calcium carbonate.

Condensed piles of billions of long-dead Ehuxes comprise, for instance, the White Cliffs of Dover.

In the ocean, "blooms" of Ehux algae can cover thousands of square kilometres, and their milky reflected light can be seen from space.

Less visibly, the micro-alga also has an essential place in the ecosystem and the complex equation of climate change, which explains the bid to sequence its genome.

As a phytoplankton, Ehux is a basic link in the ocean's food chain. It also absorbs lots of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the ocean surface, helping to attenuate the greenhouse-gas problem.

Unveiled in Nature, the genome project turned out to be something of a nightmare, the researchers admit.

The Ehux genome was originally thought be only about 30 million bases, or "rungs" in the DNA ladder.

High genetic diversity

In the end, it turned out to be a whopping 141 million bases, with at least 30 000 genes - a third more than the gene tally among humans, although our overall genome is many times bigger.

The investigation took more than 10 years to complete.

"Because of the size and inherent complexities, the genome became known as The Beast," said Betsy Read, a professor of biology at California State University, who initiated the scheme in 2002 and was eventually supported by 74 other researchers from a dozen countries.

What made Ehux such a challenge was remarkably high genetic diversity within the species, enabling it to thrive in seas that can be cold or warm, rich or low in nitrogen, iron and phosphorus and dim or bright in sunlight.

It was only by sequencing not one but 13 strains of Ehux that the team was able to get a complete picture - the first algal pan-genome.

Comparing and contrasting the 13 strains shows that the alga has a core genome, which accounts for about three-quarters of its DNA, says the paper.

The rest comprises different gene sets that help a specific strain meet challenges of the local environment.

By way of comparison, humans share around 99% of their DNA.

Finding out how Ehux works could one day aid medical research and better understand the impact on this vital organism from greenhouse gases.

Identifying the genes and proteins that help it make its tough little shell could lead to new composite materials for bone replacement.

"The genome, so to say, is the 'hard drive' of an organism," said Klaus Valentin of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

"All properties are encoded there - how it looks, how it can adapt, how it competes with others. If we know the data on this hard drive, we can learn a great deal about what this organism can do and how it reacts to changes as a result of climate change, for example."

Read more on:    nature  |  us  |  genetics  |  marine life
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
7 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Fashion
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Cape Town - 16:15 PM
    Road name: Wet Weather
    RAIN across the greater Cape Town area - drive with care and use headlights - Allow Extra Tavel Time
  • Friday Kuils River - 09:28 AM
    Road name: Polkadraai Road Eastbound
    ROADWORKS between the R102 Van Riebeeck Road and the R310 Baden Powell Drive exit - DELAYS
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Code 10 Drivers

Cape Town
Mobile Recruitment
R6 500 - R7 000 Per Month

Course Consultant

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
Faculty Training Institute (Pty) Ltd
R10 000 - R12 000 Per Month

Job: Senior SQL Developer, Global Agency, Cape Town. R30k –R45k

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
Initiate International
R30 000 - R45 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2 TV Series for R250

Get 2 TV Series box sets for R250 and save up to R148! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Apple iPad 2 White 16GB 9.7" Tablet With WiFi & 3G

Two cameras for FaceTime and HD video recording. The dual-core...

From R4300.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

The day may have a fluctuating sensitive energy to begin with, but later when the Moon moves into dramatic and creative Leo you...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.