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Concept: Algae


The “wooden-steps” hypothesis [Distel DL, et al. (2000) Nature 403:725-726] proposed that large chemosynthetic mussels found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents descend from much smaller species associated with sunken wood and other organic deposits, and that the endosymbionts of these progenitors made use of hydrogen sulfide from biogenic sources (e.g., decaying wood) rather than from vent fluids. Here, we show that wood has served not only as a stepping stone between habitats but also as a bridge between heterotrophic and chemoautotrophic symbiosis for the giant mud-boring bivalve Kuphus polythalamia This rare and enigmatic species, which achieves the greatest length of any extant bivalve, is the only described member of the wood-boring bivalve family Teredinidae (shipworms) that burrows in marine sediments rather than wood. We show that K. polythalamia harbors sulfur-oxidizing chemoautotrophic (thioautotrophic) bacteria instead of the cellulolytic symbionts that allow other shipworm species to consume wood as food. The characteristics of its symbionts, its phylogenetic position within Teredinidae, the reduction of its digestive system by comparison with other family members, and the loss of morphological features associated with wood digestion indicate that K. polythalamia is a chemoautotrophic bivalve descended from wood-feeding (xylotrophic) ancestors. This is an example in which a chemoautotrophic endosymbiosis arose by displacement of an ancestral heterotrophic symbiosis and a report of pure culture of a thioautotrophic endosymbiont.

Concepts: Algae, Bacteria, Evolution, Symbiosis, Endosymbiont, Hydrothermal vent, Bivalvia, Shipworm


The ~1.6 Ga Tirohan Dolomite of the Lower Vindhyan in central India contains phosphatized stromatolitic microbialites. We report from there uniquely well-preserved fossils interpreted as probable crown-group rhodophytes (red algae). The filamentous form Rafatazmia chitrakootensis n. gen, n. sp. has uniserial rows of large cells and grows through diffusely distributed septation. Each cell has a centrally suspended, conspicuous rhomboidal disk interpreted as a pyrenoid. The septa between the cells have central structures that may represent pit connections and pit plugs. Another filamentous form, Denaricion mendax n. gen., n. sp., has coin-like cells reminiscent of those in large sulfur-oxidizing bacteria but much more recalcitrant than the liquid-vacuole-filled cells of the latter. There are also resemblances with oscillatoriacean cyanobacteria, although cell volumes in the latter are much smaller. The wider affinities of Denaricion are uncertain. Ramathallus lobatus n. gen., n. sp. is a lobate sessile alga with pseudoparenchymatous thallus, “cell fountains,” and apical growth, suggesting florideophycean affinity. If these inferences are correct, Rafatazmia and Ramathallus represent crown-group multicellular rhodophytes, antedating the oldest previously accepted red alga in the fossil record by about 400 million years.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Bacteria, Plastid, Plant, Cell wall, Brown algae, Red algae


Herbivory is widely accepted as a vital function on coral reefs. To date, the majority of studies examining herbivory in coral reef environments have focused on the roles of fishes and/or urchins, with relatively few studies considering the potential role of macroherbivores in reef processes. Here, we introduce evidence that highlights the potential role of marine turtles as herbivores on coral reefs. While conducting experimental habitat manipulations to assess the roles of herbivorous reef fishes we observed green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) showing responses that were remarkably similar to those of herbivorous fishes. Reducing the sediment load of the epilithic algal matrix on a coral reef resulted in a forty-fold increase in grazing by green turtles. Hawksbill turtles were also observed to browse transplanted thalli of the macroalga Sargassum swartzii in a coral reef environment. These responses not only show strong parallels to herbivorous reef fishes, but also highlight that marine turtles actively, and intentionally, remove algae from coral reefs. When considering the size and potential historical abundance of marine turtles we suggest that these potentially valuable herbivores may have been lost from many coral reefs before their true importance was understood.

Concepts: Algae, Coral, Coral reef, Herbivore, Hawksbill turtle, Leatherback turtle, Sea turtle, Green turtle


Calcium carbonate skeletons of scleractinian corals amplify light availability to their algal symbionts by diffuse scattering, optimizing photosynthetic energy acquisition. However, the mechanism of scattering and its role in coral evolution and dissolution of algal symbioses during “bleaching” events are largely unknown. Here we show that differences in skeletal fractal architecture at nano/micro-lengthscales within 96 coral taxa result in an 8-fold variation in light-scattering and considerably alter the algal light environment. We identified a continuum of properties that fall between two extremes: (1) corals with low skeletal fractality that are efficient at transporting and redistributing light throughout the colony with low scatter but are at higher risk of bleaching and (2) corals with high skeletal fractality that are inefficient at transporting and redistributing light with high scatter and are at lower risk of bleaching. While levels of excess light derived from the coral skeleton is similar in both groups, the low-scatter corals have a higher rate of light-amplification increase when symbiont concentration is reduced during bleaching, thus creating a positive feedback-loop between symbiont concentration and light-amplification that exposes the remaining symbionts to increasingly higher light intensities. By placing our findings in an evolutionary framework, in conjunction with a novel empirical index of coral bleaching susceptibility, we find significant correlations between bleaching susceptibility and light-scattering despite rich homoplasy in both characters; suggesting that the cost of enhancing light-amplification to the algae is revealed in decreased resilience of the partnership to stress.

Concepts: Algae, Photosynthesis, Evolution, Symbiosis, Coral, Coral reef, Scleractinia, Endosymbiont


Microalgae are a promising feedstock for renewable fuels, and algal metabolic engineering can lead to crop improvement, thus accelerating the development of commercially viable biodiesel production from algae biomass. We demonstrate that protein-protein interactions between the fatty acid acyl carrier protein (ACP) and thioesterase (TE) govern fatty acid hydrolysis within the algal chloroplast. Using green microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (Cr) as a model, a structural simulation of docking CrACP to CrTE identifies a protein-protein recognition surface between the two domains. A virtual screen reveals plant TEs with similar in silico binding to CrACP. Employing an activity-based crosslinking probe designed to selectively trap transient protein-protein interactions between the TE and ACP, we demonstrate in vitro that CrTE must functionally interact with CrACP to release fatty acids, while TEs of vascular plants show no mechanistic crosslinking to CrACP. This is recapitulated in vivo, where overproduction of the endogenous CrTE increased levels of short-chain fatty acids and engineering plant TEs into the C. reinhardtii chloroplast did not alter the fatty acid profile. These findings highlight the critical role of protein-protein interactions in manipulating fatty acid biosynthesis for algae biofuel engineering as illuminated by activity-based probes.

Concepts: Algae, Photosynthesis, Protein, Fatty acid, Plant, Water, Omega-3 fatty acid, Hydrolysis


Structural change in both the habitat and reef-associated fish assemblages within spatially managed coral reefs can provide key insights into the benefits and limitations of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). While MPA zoning effects on particular target species are well reported, we are yet to fully resolve the various affects of spatial management on the structure of coral reef communities over decadal time scales. Here, we document mixed affects of MPA zoning on fish density, biomass and species richness over the 21 years since establishment of the Saba Marine Park (SMP). Although we found significantly greater biomass and species richness of reef-associated fishes within shallow habitats (5 meters depth) closed to fishing, this did not hold for deeper (15 m) habitats, and there was a widespread decline (38% decrease) in live hard coral cover and a 68% loss of carnivorous reef fishes across all zones of the SMP from the 1990s to 2008. Given the importance of live coral for the maintenance and replenishment of reef fishes, and the likely role of chronic disturbance in driving coral decline across the region, we explore how local spatial management can help protect coral reef ecosystems within the context of large-scale environmental pressures and disturbances outside the purview of local MPA management.

Concepts: Algae, Fish, Coral, Coral reef, Scleractinia, Cnidaria, Marine Protected Area, Protected area


The requirements of micronutrients for biomass and hydrocarbon production in Botryococcus braunii UTEX 572 were studied using response surface methodology. The concentrations of four micronutrients (iron, manganese, molybdenum, and nickel) were manipulated to achieve the best performance of B. braunii in laboratory conditions. The responses of algal biomass and hydrocarbon to the concentration variations of the four micronutrients were estimated by a second order quadratic regression model. Genetic algorithm calculations showed that the optimal level of micronutrients for algal biomass were 0.266 µM iron, 0.707 µM manganese, 0.624 µM molybdenum and 3.38 µM nickel. The maximum hydrocarbon content could be achieved when the culture media contained 10.43 µM iron, 6.53 µM manganese, 0.012 µM molybdenum and 1.73 µM nickel. The validation through an independent test in a photobioreactor suggests that the modified media with optimised concentrations of trace elements can increase algal biomass by 34.5% and hydrocarbon by 27.4%. This study indicates that micronutrients play significant roles in regulating algal growth and hydrocarbon production, and the response surface methodology can be used to optimise the composition of culture medium in algal culture.

Concepts: Algae, Photosynthesis, Metal, Agar, Mathematical optimization, Algae fuel, Algaculture, Botryococcus braunii


We have recently discovered a variety of unrelated phototrophic microorganisms (two microalgae and one cyanobacteria) in specialized terrestrial habitats at The Coastal Range of the Atacama Desert. Interestingly, morphological and molecular evidence suggest that these three species are all recent colonists that came from aquatic habitats. The first case is Cyanidiales inhabiting coastal caves. Cyanidiales are microalgae that are commonly found in warm acid springs, but have also been recently discovered as cave flora in Italy. The case is Dunaliella biofilms colonizing spider webs in coastal caves; Dunaliella are microalgae typically found in hypersaline habitats. The third case is Chroococcidiopsis, a genus of Cyanobacteria commonly found in deserts around the world that has also been described in warm springs. Thus, we show that the traits found in the closest ancestors of the aforementioned species (which inhabited other unrelated extreme environments) seem to be now useful for the described species in their current subaerial habitats and may likely correspond to cases of exaptations. Altogether, the Coastal Range of the Atacama Desert may be considered as a place where key steps on the colonization of land by phototrophic organisms seem to be being repeated by convergent evolution of extant microalgae and Cyanobacteria.

Concepts: Algae, Archaea, Bacteria, Evolution, Organism, Genus, Atacama Desert, Desert


Understanding the effects of environmental change on the distribution and abundance of strongly interacting organisms, such as intertidal macroalgae and their grazers, needs a thorough knowledge of their underpinning ecological relationships. Control of grazer-plant interactions is bi-directional on northwestern European coasts: grazing by limpets structures populations of macroalgae, while macroalgae provide habitat and food for limpets. Scottish shores dominated by the macroalga Fucus vesiculosus support lower densities and larger sizes of limpets Patella vulgata than shores with less Fucus. These patterns may be due to differences in inter-size-class competitive interactions of limpets among shores with different covers of Fucus. To examine this model, densities of small and large limpets were manipulated in plots with and without Fucus. Amounts of biofilm were measured in each plot. The presence of Fucus increased survival but hindered growth of small (15 mm TL) limpets, which were negatively affected by the presence of large limpets (31 mm TL). In contrast, large limpets were not affected by the presence of Fucus or of small limpets. This suggests the occurrence of asymmetric inter-size-class competition, which was influenced by the presence of macroalgae. Macroalgae and increased densities of limpets did not influence amounts of biofilm. Our findings highlight the role of interactions among organisms in generating ecological responses to environmental change.

Concepts: Algae, Biology, Fucus vesiculosus, Fucus, Seaweed, Intertidal zone, Limpet, Patella vulgata


New specimens of the kleptoplastidal dinoflagellate Gymnodinium eucyaneum Hu were collected in China. We investigated the systematics of the dinoflagellate and the origin of its endosymbiont based on light morphology and phylogenetic analyses using multiple DNA sequences. Cells were dorsoventrally flattened with a sharply acute hypocone and a hemispherical epicone. The confusion between G. eucyaneum and G. acidotum Nygaard still needs to be resolved. We found that the hypocone was conspicuously larger than the epicone in most G. eucyaneum cells, which differed from G. acidotum, but there were a few cells whose hypocone and epicone were of nearly the same size. In addition, there was only one site difference in the partial nuclear LSU rDNA sequences of a sample from Japan given the name G. acidotum and G. eucyaneum in the present study, which suggest that G. eucyaneum may be a synonym of G. acidotum. Spectroscopic analyses and phylogenetic analyses based on nucleomorph SSU rDNA sequences and chloroplast 23 s rDNA sequences suggested that the endosymbiont of G. eucyaneum was derived from Chroomonas (Cryptophyta), and that it was most closely related to C. coerulea Skuja. Moreover, the newly reported kleptoplastidal dinoflagellates G. myriopyrenoides and G. eucyaneum in our study were very similar, and the taxonomy of kleptoplastidal dinoflagellates was discussed.

Concepts: Algae, DNA, Eukaryote, Organelle, Chloroplast, Endosymbiont, Dinoflagellate, Cryptomonad