A grant has been awarded to Dr. Robert Andersen at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences to investigate the systematic biology of golden algae. The Chrysophyceae (golden algae) contain many common freshwater and marine algal species. Most species are microscopic and were described about 100 years ago using only a light microscope. Recent studies revealed that older studies were too simplistic and inaccurate. This study will examine the largest taxonomic order of the Chrysophyceae, the order Ochromonadales, with emphasis on the largest genus, Ochromonas. These are biflagellate microorganisms that are able to conduct photosynthesis. Preliminary results showed that the small subunit ribosomal RNA and the ribulose bis-phosphate carboxylase/oxygenase genes are appropriate for the DNA portion of the study. Additionally, the electron microscope will be used to study flagella and special vesicles of keystone species, i.e., those especially important for understanding evolution of these algae. We anticipate the discovery and description of several new species, as well as new genera, that have heretofore been unknown to science. The completed project will provide a modern taxonomic revision for this large and important group of algae.
Chrysophyte algae help form the base of the food chain in aquatic ecosystems, and freshwater and marine animals depend directly, or indirectly, on these algae. Those in drinking water treatment plants or environmental science companies, who work in aquatic ecosystems, depend upon systematic biologists, like myself, for accurate and thorough descriptions of species. Also, biochemists, molecular biologists, and biotechnologists depend upon systematic biologists for accurate identifications of cultures and precise descriptions for species. Our previous research discovered a new group of algae that produce large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially EPA, which is very beneficial for human health (reduces heart disease). These new PUFA algae are related to the Chrysophyceae, and perhaps additional organisms, which are beneficial to human health, will be discovered and described in this study.