Monday, June 24, 2013

DOE JGI Science Highlights: Ehux - The Alga of Many Faces

Known by the researchers who sequenced it at the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute as “The Beast”, and considered the “Flowers of the Ocean” by others, Emiliania huxleyi has proved to be a single-celled coccolithophore of many faces. The third most abundant group of phytoplankton, Ehux is the basis of most ocean food chains, though its abilities expand to controlling the ocean climate by reflecting the sun and taking part in the global sulfur and carbon dioxide cycles. 
The white cliffs of Dover are composed of the chalky, white shells that envelop the single-celled photosynthetic alga known as Emiliania huxleyi.
(Ehux images by Jeremy Young. Background by Caitlin Youngquist, Berkeley Lab)
In order to be able to complete all of these different jobs, Ehux’s genome was discovered to be a ‘pan-genome’, and is the first alga of that kind. The study was published June 12, 2013 in Nature. The ‘pan-genome’ consists of a uniform core of genes supplemented by various other gene sets. This unique configuration allows for Ehux to be present in the different conditions of each of the oceans it must perform its duties in. 

The team looks forward to the future use of the information received from Ehux, “together, the physiological capacity and genomic plasticity of E. huxleyi make it a powerful model for studying speciation and adaptations to global climate change”

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