Session Spotlight: Algal Barcoding

Kris Jett

Kris Jett

The countdown to the deadline for abstract submission has begun! Remember, submit by midnight Eastern US Time on 15 June.

Line Le Gall, co-chair

Session Spotlight

Session: Algal Barcoding

Session Chair: Fred GurgelLine Le Gall, and Gary Saunders 

• What does your proposed session cover? Why is it important to barcoding?

Fred Gurgel (FG): Macroalgae in general, however all researchers who expressed interest in participating so far work with marine macroalgae only. Marine macroalgae refers to all macroscopic algae  (i.e. non-phytoplankton species) found in the marine environment.

Macroalgae are notoriously difficult to identify based on morphological characters alone. Most species present a wide range of intra-specific morphological plasticity, analogous characters are abundant among different species, most stable characters used in identification refer to the sexual reproductive structures which are often absent (e.g. juvenile or sterile plants are collected), and a plethora of cryptic and pseudo-cryptic species have been discovered based on preliminary DNA barcoding projects. DNA barcoding will allow rapid and reliable species assessment when morphology is not capable of doing so. This is particularly important not only for the identification of introduced and invasive species but also in the selection of strains of economical importance (e.g. selection of strains of farmed macroalgae for the production of agar, carraggenan, alginate, fishery fodder, bioremediation, biofuels, etc.)

Line Le Gall (LG): The algal session will focus on the new projects that have been initiated to conduct floristic studies in determined areas. The adjunction of the many ongoing projects make that  initiative the most comprehensive study of algal systematics. Algae are a very diverse groups of organisms. Indeed, in the current view of the tree of Life, there is algae in almost all lineages but the animals, fungi, and amoebozoa.

Gary Saunders (GS): Our session will highlight the photosynthetic protists or algae. Animals, fungi and plants are recent descendents from only two of some 36 evolutionarily diverse lineages of unicellular and simple multicellular organisms collectively termed protists. They are ubiquitous in the biosphere, found in every drop of water, pinch of soil, and living within animals, plants and even other protists. They are critical components of ecosystems and have many direct and indirect economic impacts. Photosynthetic protists, macroalgae and microalgae, outnumber heterotrophic species by tens of thousands and form the base of aquatic food webs, contribute 50% of global carbon fixation, oxygenate aquatic environments, provide intertidal habitat for larval stages of fish and invertebrate species, and are an underutilized resource. Despite considerable diversity and significance, protists, with their pervasive distribution and cryptic habit, are some of the least understood organisms from a biodiversity perspective. Many display unpredictable and periodic occurrence, intractability to culturing, and require advanced microscopy for identification. Generally considered to number 110,000 extant species, recent studies suggest that the true diversity may be as high as ten times that currently catalogued. In response to the previous challenges, protistan biologists have come to rely heavily on DNA analyses in efforts to establish how many photosynthetic protists are truly on the planet. The purpose of our symposium is to highlight advances made to date in the DNA barcoding of photosynthetic protists, emphasize secondary lessons and discoveries spawning from the growing sequence databases, and to explore options for future developments in this field.

• What is your vision for the 4th Conference?

FG: Bring together key international researchers working on different aspects of macroalgal DNA barcoding around the world to, whenever possible, work together towards: building a more comprehensive understating on how to improve macroalgal DNA barcoding (e.g. develop better primers), assess true levels of diversity within newly discovered species complexes, propose and agree on secondary markers for barcoding, pull datasets together to produce more comprehensive pictures of the diversity within particular taxa, etc.

LG: The fourth conference will take place relatively close to  the heart of marine diversity, the “coral triangle” and we hope that many people from the south Pacific and Indian Ocean will attend the conference.

GS: The best turnout from the protist community in the history of DNA barcoding. This will facilitate novel collaborations and synergies and facilitate a comprehensive discussion of marker selection and barcoding strategies. I am especially hopeful for a large cadre of seaweed systematists in honor of Prof. Womersley – a recently deceased icon in this field of research in Australia!

• What research do you do?

FG:  I current hold an ABRS grant to work on the DNA barcoding of the red macroalgae (a.k.a. Rhodophyta) of the Great Barrier Reef, and an ARC Linkage to work on the DNA barcode of the genus Caulerpa in Australia (the later a marine green macroalga, a.k.a. Chlorophyta).

LG: I study the diversity of the algae that occurs in France and DNA-barcoding is  a terrific tool to compare the Atlantic and the Mediterranean flora. I am also one of the curator of the PC herbarium.

GS: We are heavily involved in macroalgal systematics (in every sense of the word), but also more broadly involved in the realm of DNA barcoding as it applies to a wide diversity of photosynthetic protists (especially red, brown and green seaweeds, and the diatoms).

• If people are interested in this topic, what can they do to get involved in addition to submitting an abstract?

Submit an abstract through the on-line portal on the conference web-page. If you have questions feel free to contact one of the three organizers of our proposed session (Fred Gurgel –, Line Le Gall –, or Gary Saunders – We hope to have a substantial turnout from the algal community!

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