Worden and her fellow researchers discovered that Micromonas carries a significant number of genes that are not found in the genomes of other green algae (at least not in the five or six other species sequenced to date). Some of these genes, however, are found in land plants or bacteria. Worden’s team is currently trying to find out the functions of these genes in Micromonas. Such information will help researchers better understand how Micromonas interacts with its environment and with other marine organisms.
According to Worden, “One of our main findings is that some genes that were thought to be land-plant specific were also found in Micromonas. It’s possible that land plants could have developed these genes and Micromonas also developed them. Or perhaps an organism (the ancestral alga) that preceded both land plants and Micromonas had them, which is the simpler explanation.”
For example, the researchers found evidence that Micromonas has genes that scientists previously temporally associated with the development of leafy plants. Obviously, Micromonas never developed leaves. Thus Worden’s research suggests that such genes may have other functions that are not yet understood.
Another unexpected finding was that Micromonas contains genes associated with sexual reproduction (as opposed to simply dividing into two cells asexually). As Worden says, “Formerly it was thought that these algae do not have sex. Now it really looks as though they do have sex. No one has seen it, but this could be because laboratory conditions are not correct for switching to this form of reproduction.”
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