How did higher life on Earth evolve?

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London, June 4 (ANI): An international research team has for the first time decoded the complete genome of a brown alga, opening a new door to the understanding the evolution of two key prerequisites for higher life on Earth - multicellularity and photosynthesis.

About 100 scientists and technicians, during a five-year research project, successfully decoded all hereditary information - commonly known as the 'genome' - on Ectocarpus siliculosus, an up to 20 cm large brown seaweed, which occurs mainly along coastlines in temperate latitudes.

They have analyzed approximately 214 million base pairs and assigned these to about 16,000 genes. The biologists, Dr. Klaus Valentin and Dr. Bank Beszteri of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association have been involved in this global project since the planning phase in 2005.

"As evolutionary scientists we are particularly interested in why the world has developed as we know it today," said Klaus Valentin.

"During earth's history, complex multicellular life has evolved from unicellular organisms along five independent paths, which are: animals, plants, fungi, red algae and brown algae."

Evolutionary scientists have therefore set themselves the goal to decode a complete genome from a representative of each of these lines and to look for comparable genetic information.

"This goal has now been achieved for the brown algal genome. The decoding of a red algal genome has already been completed, and we are currently evaluating the data," said Valentin.

"And indeed, in the brown alga, we found many genes for so called kinases, transporter and transcription factors. Such genes are also commonly found in land plants, and we suspect that they also play a key role in the origin of multicellular organisms," Valentin added.

The sequencing of the brown algal genome is also a milestone in the efforts to reconstruct the evolution of photosynthesis.

"We now know that oxygen-producing photosynthesis was invented before about 3.8 billion years ago, by cyanobacteria, sometimes erroneously called 'blue-green algae'," said Valentin about the elemental capability of plants to convert sunlight into biologically usable energy, whilst releasing oxygen.

"Green and red algae have developed this ability after their ancestors scavenged living cyanobacteria, and thus more or less captured photosynthesis, to the benefit of both sides, since this symbiosis resulted in tremendous competitive advantages in the primordial ocean".

Brown algae were assumed to have arisen from the fusion of photosynthetically inactive colourless cells with a unicellular red alga. However, as discovered in a previous research project on single-celled diatoms, AWI researchers showed that brown algae also arose from the fusion of a green alga with a red alga and thus refuted a widespread theory among experts.

"Interestingly, in the brown alga we discovered, a high proportion of genes that are characteristic of green algae, including the kinases and transporters typical for multicellular land plants, as mentioned above. To which extent we have traced common origins of multicellular life, will have to be determined in future investigations," said Valentin.

The research has been reported in the latest issue of science magazine Nature. (ANI)

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