Learning from algae sex

Nov 06, 2013

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) are delving into the mysterious world of algae to find better ways to put these organisms to use.

Some are studying sex – an area where they have made surprising discoveries.

"Algae basically reproduce through , where they get smaller for each division due to the cell walls of glass that form in the dividing cell (like a shoe box with a lid) until they suddenly switch to ," says Atle Bones, a professor of biology at NTNU.

"We have found that when they are below a certain size, they switch over to 'sex' mode and begin to mate. Controlling this sexual activity is important for biological research, because it means that you can control their proliferation,"  he says.

This kind of control provides scientists with an important tool for cultivating algae. They need to be able to control how the algae reproduce, so they can select for the properties they want. The commercial cultivation of algae requires the ability to combine features from different lines. Given a large "toolbox" with various algal lines, it is possible to produce combinations that are suited to the goals of commercial production and cultivation.

"Different combinations could provide the basis for the production of food, fine chemicals, bio-energy and materials," Bones says.

Algal rainmakers

Another important finding is that some make sulphur compounds that evaporate from the ocean.

In some cases, they serve as collection points (nucleators) for water along with other particles and produce that form clouds. The extent of this phenomenon is unclear, but if the wind pushes the clouds over the land, the droplets will eventually fall as precipitation.

That means that can actually affect the weather.

"A large amount of algal production in the North Sea may also result in more rain in Norway," says Bones.

A bright future

Another area that Trondheim researchers are investigating is how some algae respond to light. Some algae create substances that may protect them from light, like a type of sunscreen.

Others have a sort of funnel that can regulate how much light they let in, by expanding or narrowing the funnel, or by controlling the density of the filters found in the funnel.

This research on diatoms, which is being led by NTNU researcher Gabriella Tranell, has already provided new knowledge that can be used in the development of solar cells.

Explore further: Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Novel testing device for detecting toxic blue-green algae

Jun 24, 2013

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a fast and affordable testing device for detecting the presence of toxic blue-green algae in water. There is currently no fast, affordable and user-friendly way for consumers ...

Biofuel from human urine

Sep 30, 2013

Micro-algae can grow on undiluted human urine. This offers opportunities for new water purification methods and perhaps even for converting urine into usable chemical substances and biofuels.

Antarctic sea ice thickness affects algae populations

Dec 18, 2012

In the waters off Antarctica, algae grow and live in the sea ice that surrounds the southern continent-a floating habitat sure to change as the planet warms. As with most aquatic ecosystems, microscopic algae form the base ...

Recommended for you

Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

Nov 21, 2014

Worldwide, drought conditions, extreme temperatures, and high soil saline content all have negative effects on tomato crops. These natural processes reduce soil nutrient content and lifespan, result in reduced plant growth ...

Plant immunity comes at a price

Nov 21, 2014

Plants are under permanent attack by a multitude of pathogens. To win the battle against fungi, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, they have developed a complex and effective immune system. And just as ...

Evolution: The genetic connivances of digits and genitals

Nov 20, 2014

During the development of mammals, the growth and organization of digits are orchestrated by Hox genes, which are activated very early in precise regions of the embryo. These "architect genes" are themselves regulated by ...

Surrogate sushi: Japan biotech for bluefin tuna

Nov 20, 2014

Of all the overfished fish in the seas, luscious, fatty bluefin tuna are among the most threatened. Marine scientist Goro Yamazaki, who is known in this seaside community as "Young Mr. Fish," is working to ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.