You may have missed… a new algae species, genetic eye disease, and models of the Earth’s continents

A new species of algae, found by accident, has been named after a poet

Plant biologists at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) in the US have discovered a new genus of algae – which they’ve named after American poet Amanda Gorman – completely by accident.

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Botany, the new algae turned up on the researchers’ petri dishes while they were looking for a completely different species of symbiotic cyanobacteria in samples of hornwort plants in 2020.

Gormaniella terricola is a type of green algae – these contain chloroplasts that use the energy from sunlight to produce sugars in a process called photosynthesis.

“Once we started sequencing the alga’s genome, we were able to place it in the order Chaetopeltidales,” says senior author Fay-Wei Li, assistant professor at BTI and an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University, US.

Microscopic image of the green algae gormaniella terricola
Gormaniella terricola algae. Credit: Louise Lewis/University of Connecticut

“But there were aspects of its chloroplast genome that were completely unique and made it clear that this was something new.”

The team says it decided to name the algae genus after Gorman read her poem, The Hill We Climb, during US President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.

“At a point when it was sometimes difficult to find meaning in our research, Amanda Gorman gifted us with this incredibly uplifting poem that gave us a renewed sense of hope in the lab,” explains Li.

A hotter ocean is a hungrier ocean

According to a new study, the impacts of predators in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans peak at higher temperatures, which could have unknown implications as sea temperatures continue to rise due to global warming.

“Warmer waters tend to favour animals high in the food chain, which become more active and need more food – and it’s their prey who pay for that increased activity,” says co-author Emmett Duffy, director of the Smithsonian Museum’s Marine Global Earth Observatory network (MarineGEO) in the US.

“This suggests that warming seas could see big shifts in the life of sensitive seabed habitats.”

The international team conducted tests at 36 sites along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Americas and found that predation was more intense at warmer sites, but dropped to near zero in colder waters (below 20°C).

In the hotter waters, the predators’ more voracious appetites also left a greater mark on the prey community – total prey biomass plunged in the tropics when prey was left unprotected, whereas leaving prey exposed or protected made almost no difference in the coldest zones.

“As predation changes, some species will be winners and some will be losers,” says co-author Greg Ruiz, head of the Marine Invasions Research Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “But we don’t know exactly how that will play out.”

The research has been published in Science.

Triggerfish and pufferfish consume marine invertebrates on a panel exposed to predators during a prior experiment using similar communities in Panama City. Credit: Edited by Michele Repetto, footage from Freestone et al. 2021 Archives

New models of how the continents were assembled

Australian researchers have produced three new models of how the Earth’s continents were assembled, according to a new study in Earth-Science Reviews. The research provides a more accurate representation of the planet’s architecture, which will help scientists better understand natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

The three models include a tectonic-plate model, a province model (areas encompassing a natural geological feature) and an orogeny model (the process of mountain formation).

“The plate model can be used to improve models of risks from geohazards, the orogeny model helps understand the geodynamic systems and better model Earth’s evolution, and the province model can be used to improve prospecting for minerals,” says Dr Derrick Hasterok, a lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Adelaide, South Australia.

Chromatin originated in ancient microbes one to two billion years ago

In almost every human cell, two metres of DNA has to fit inside a nucleus that’s just eight-millionths of a metre wide. It’s made possible because DNA wraps around structural proteins called histones and into a coiled genetic architecture (known as chromatin) that protects DNA from damage and plays a key role in regulating genes.

Until now, the exact origin of chromatin has remained a mystery, but a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has revealed that it first evolved in ancient microbes living on Earth between one and two billion years ago.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of different species of eukaryotes (organisms with cells that contain a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles) and archaea (microorganisms similar to, but distinct from, bacteria) to study the evolutionary history of chromatin.

“Our results underscore that the structural and regulatory roles of chromatin are as old as eukaryotes themselves,” says first author Dr. Xavier Grau-Bové, a researcher at the Centre for Genomic Regulation, Spain. “These functions are essential for eukaryotic life – since chromatin first appeared, it’s never been lost again in any life form.”

Researchers discover a new genetic eye disease that effects the macula

Images of the retina of a patient with a timp3 mutation
Retinal images of a patient with a TIMP3 mutation causing atypical symptoms. While there is visible damage in the retina (dark circles), there is no choroidal neovascularisation present. Credit: National Eye Institute

A new disease that affects the macula – the small part of the light-sensing retina needed for sharp central vision – has been identified by researchers from the National Eye Institute (NEI) in the US.

Macular dystrophies are disorders that usually cause central vision loss due to mutations in several genes, one of which is TIMP3. The gene encodes a protein of the same name that helps regulate blood flow in the retina, and is secreted from the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer of tissue that nourishes and supports the retina’s light-sensing photoreceptors.

“We found it surprising that two patients had TIMP3 variants not in the mature protein, but in the short signal sequence the gene uses to ‘cut’ the protein from the cells,” says lead author Dr Bin Guan, a research fellow at the Ophthalmic Genomics Laboratory at NEI.

“We showed these variants prevent cleavage, causing the protein to be stuck in the cell, likely leading to retinal pigment epithelium toxicity.”

The study has been published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

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