BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Algal Pan-Genome Fills Gap in Tree of Life
Published: June 12, 2013
Posted: September 12, 2013

To World War II soldiers, “The White Cliffs of Dover” was a morale-boosting song that lifted spirits in dark times. To scientists, the white cliffs are towering structures made of the chalky, white calcium carbonate exoskeleton that envelop the single-celled photosynthetic alga known as Emiliania huxleyi or “Ehux.” In some marine ecosystems, Ehux can trap as much as 20 percent of organic carbon derived from CO2 , making it a critical player in the marine carbon cycle . The Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has sequenced the Ehux genome and compared it with sequences from other algal isolates. The Ehux genome turned out to be large and complex. Also, Ehux does not exist as a clearly defined species with a uniform genome, but as a more diffuse community—a “pan-genome”—with different individuals possessing a shared core of genes, supplemented by different gene sets to cope with the particular challenges of a local environment. DOE JGI and its collaborators compared 13 Ehux strains, revealing the first ever algal pan-genome. Ehux ’s genomic variability helps explain its ability to thrive in oceans from the equator to the subarctic. The researchers found that the core gene sets include genes that enable Ehux to survive in low levels of phosphorus and to assimilate and break down nitrogen-rich compounds. Additionally, the algal genome offers hints that Ehux may be involved in the global sulfur cycle, as it is able to produce a compound that can influence cloud formation and the climate.

Reference: Read, B. A., J. Kegel, M. J. Klute, A. Kuo, S. C. Lefebvre, F. Maumus, C. Mayer, J. Miller, A. Monier, A. Salamov, J. Young, M. Aguilar, J.-M. Claverie, S. Frickenhaus, K. Gonzalez, E. K. Herman, Y.-C. Lin, J. Napier, H. Ogata, A. F. Sarno, J. Shmutz, D. Schroeder, C. de Vargas, F. Verret, P. von Dassow, and et al. 2013. “Pan Genome of the Phytoplankton Emiliania Underpins Its Global Distribution,” Nature 499 , 209–13. DOI DOI: 10.1038/nature12221. (Reference link)

Contact: Dan Drell, SC-23.2, (301) 903-4742
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling
  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI)

Division: SC-33.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)