In the July 9, 2010 issue of Science, researchers led by the DOE JGI and the Salk Institute report on the 138 million-base genome of the multicellular alga Volvox carteri.
The work complements the genome of the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which was sequenced by the DOE JGI in 2007 and is used by researchers working on algal biofuel generation. The Volvox genome could have similar applications.
|Dark-field photomicrograph showing asexual Volvox carteri algae. Each spheroid contains ~2000 small somatic cells at the surface and ~16 large asexual, reproductive cells deeper in the sphere. (Credit: Armin Hallman, University of Bielefeld, Germany)|
DOE JGI collaborator and co-first author Jim Umen at the Salk Institute noted Volvox can shift its energies from producing food through photosynthesis to supporting the functions of its non-reproducing somatic cells.
“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,” he said.
DOE JGI bioinformaticist and co-first author Simon Prochnik added that having the genomes of both Volvox and Chlamydomonas has allowed researchers to identify roughly 1,800 protein families unique to both algae. The genomes also provide the opportunity to conduct comparative analyses to learn more about photosynthetic processes and the transition from unicellularity to multicellularity.
“Having the Volvox genome is a fantastic resource for directing further research towards our target areas of interest,” he said. “With this pair of algal genomes in hand enables us to conduct much more detailed comparisons than would be possible if we only had one species.”