MBL Scientists Describe Major Differences Between Related Desert and Aquatic Algae

April 10th, 2018 @   - 

Staying alive in the desert is no simple matter for green algae whose evolutionary ancestors lived in the ocean. How can some algal species survive extreme drought, while others desiccate and die? Understanding this difference can provide important information on requirements for drought tolerance that it may be possible to apply to larger plants as the climate changes.

Researchers have described a new genetic model to study exactly this question in a paper published in Journal of Cell Science. In a group of five closely related species of green algae called Scenedesmaceae, three that have adapted to life in desert crust can withstand multiple rounds of desiccation, whereas their two aquatic cousins perish after drying out once. The paper also details major reproductive differences between the two groups.

“How can that be?” asks MBL Senior Scientist Zoe Cardon. “What in the genetic makeup of these species is making such a difference for both their form and their function?”

Cardon brought these microbes into her lab at the MBL, and she and Research Scientist Elena Lopez Peredo either dried them out rapidly, using airflow through a chemical hood, or more gradually at the bench. They then observed the effect of desiccation on each species. They saw that after the aquatic microbes had dried, no amount of water could revive them. The desert microbes, however, showed evidence of active photosynthesis after multiple rounds of desiccation and rehydration.

“As they dry out, you can see the photosynthesis just shutting down,” says Cardon. “You add a little more water and then, poof! It’s off to the races again.”

Read the full article by Stephanie M. McPherson here>>

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