Green algae may survive climate change because of stolen genes


In New Jersey, Rutgers University researchers found clues to how nature can modify genomes in a single-celled species of green algae that suggest ways in which scientists may someday engineer more robust algae to serve as biofuels and provide other benefits.

Green algae that evolved to tolerate hostile and fluctuating conditions in salt marshes and inland salt flats are expected to survive climate change, thanks to hardy genes they stole from bacteria. Understanding how these microalgae adapted can clarify the potential impact of climate change on the biology at the base of the food chain.

The genomes of green algae have evolved from the larger genomes of their freshwater ancestors to become resilient primary producers of organic compounds that support ecosystems. This transition to a saltier and more hostile environment occurred over millions of years but parallels what is happening on a more rapid scale now due to climate change.