Museum researchers tell you how symbiotic algae get into the embryos of salamander

[USA] What are algae doing inside salamander cells? Researchers from American Museum of Natural History are investigating this unique symbiotic pairing. 

This episode of Shelf Life looks at how the researchers are currently studying the surprising role single-celled algae play in the life of the spotted salamander—and comes on the heels of the opening of a new exhibition, The Secret World Inside You, that is all about the intricate relationship between humans and the invisible microbes that live on us and in us.

Spotted salamander egg mass by Eleanor Kee Wellman
Spotted salamander egg mass by Eleanor Kee Wellman

“We maintain about 80 live cultures of microorganisms, including algae. And about half of them are unique to our collection.” Eunsoo Kim, Assistant Curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology.

Algae live inside the cells of salamanders, starting from salamanders’s embryonic stage. It is believed that the algae may help the developing embryo to grow.

The species of algae that grows in salamander is known as Oophila amblystomatis, meaning an “egg-loving” unicellular algal which is able to infiltrate salamander’s egg capsules.

Spotted salamander egg with algae (by Mike Dunn NC)
Spotted salamander egg with algae (by Mike Dunn NC)

Examples of algae living in other cells like coral cells are common, but is extremely rare in vertebrates, partially because vertebrate immune systems are adapted to warding off invaders.

Scientists have known about the relationship between algae and salamanders for at least 100 years, and they learned in the 1980s that neither species does performs well in the absence of the other, according to Indiana University, home of co-author Roger Hangarter, an IU biologist.

For a long time, we thought the algae lived next to the salamander embryos, but a research team from Nova Scotia says algae are living within the embryos.

Experiments also showed that salamander embryos could not fully develop as without the presence of algae inside the embryo.

In a report in Nature News, researchers believed that algae might be providing oxygen and carbohydrates directly to the embryo.

On the other part of the world, both Wake and David Buckley, researchers specializing in salamander development at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, agree that the work might tell us more about how self-recognition is learned by vertebrate cells during development. Because salamanders can regrow limbs, almost all the cells in a grown adult retain a degree of pluripotency — that is, the specialized cells can continue to divide and change into other cell types throughout the salamander’s life.

It may be that specialized cells in these adult salamanders are able to accommodate algae inside them because the process by which they learn self-recognition is different from that of other vertebrates.

“It makes me wonder if other species of salamander that have known symbiotic relationships with algae also harbour algae inside their cells,” said audience member Daniel Buchholz, a developmental biologist at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. “I think that if people start looking we may see many more examples.”


Exclusively reported by Algae World News

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