Under the sea: Study reveals secret building blocks of northern algae

phys.org | 2/8/2016 | Staff
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New research from U of T 's Mississauga and Scarborough campuses reveals fascinating secrets about the complex structure of a marine organism found around the globe. The data provides important new insights about a molecular mineralization process creates the unique structure of a marine plant.

Coralline algae is found around the globe where it grows in rock-like clusters on the ocean floor in both warm and cold waters, and often forms the structural base for coral reefs. The growth patterns of coralline algae can provide important information about past climate events and how aquatic organisms are reacting to new conditions caused by global climate change.

Study - Researchers - Leptophytum - Foecundum - Coralline

For the study, researchers studied Leptophytum foecundum, a coralline algae found in the frigid waters off the coast of Labrador, Canada. "It's a highly abundant species," says Azizur Rahman, a researcher with UTM's Climate Geology Research Group and lead author on the study. Despite its ubiquity, however, little is about how the algal skeleton forms and grows. "Our research seeks to understand the skeletal structural system of the algae and to explore functional molecules in the biomineralization process," he says. "Our results show, for the first time, how a natural polymer known as chitin contributes to the development of coralline algae, and provides new insight into the role that chitin plays in controlling the process of mineral formation in marine environments."

Chitin (pronounced kite-in) is naturally occurring polymer found in the makeup of coralline algae, as well as crustaceans, insects, fungi and nematode eggs. The polymer is strong, flexible and translucent, and its...
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