Important research progress made in disease-resistant seaweed

[UK] A team of scientists conducting research into the genetic make-up of a resilient red alga is a step closer to breeding disease-resistant seaweed.

These researchers, of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, Scotland, have established the genetic code for the seaweed variety Porphyra umbilicalis. To this end, they mapped the 13,125 genes in the seaweed to help discover what makes the intertidal species so resilient, as they aim to breed marketable seaweed that can withstand threats from common diseases.

The team examined the red alga’s pathogen receptors and found that the alga’s defences are unlike other plants.

“Like any living organism, algae are plagued by diseases. Understanding how they detect and defend against disease is key to unlocking the future development of resistant strains,” pointed out SAMS algal pathologist Dr Yacine Badis.

The researcher also explains that Porphyra has original pathogen detection strategies, a finding that opens exciting avenues of research into red algal immunity and its use in modern breeding programmes.

Porphyra umbilicalis, more commonly known as Laver, can adapt to conditions on different parts of the rocky shores of the UK and Ireland and is able to withstand prolonged periods of exposure to the air as well as tolerating a greater degree of wave action than most other red algae.

The development of resilient and marketable seaweed would be of great benefit to the global aquaculture industry, which has developed at an unabated pace over the past six decades and is thought to be worth in excess of USD 5 billion. However, farmed stocks are extremely susceptible to disease.

The work at SAMS is part of the GlobalSeaweed project, a network of scientists advising on global seaweed policy funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

SAMS work has contributed to a research paper called Insights into the red algae and eukaryotic evolution from the genome of Porphyra umbilicalis and published in the American Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

 

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