Karolina Fucikova, Assumption University – A Genetically Unique Green Alga Discovered in the California Desert

On Assumption University Week: Deserts aren’t dead and there are still discoveries to be made in them.

Karolina Fucikova, associate professor of biology, tells us of one.

Karolina Fučíková is a biologist interested in the biodiversity, ecology and evolution of microscopic algae. She obtained her PhD at the University of Connecticut in 2011 and has held a faculty position at Assumption University since 2016, in the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.

A Genetically Unique Green Alga Discovered in the California Desert

Contrary to popular belief, deserts harbor unique, rich biodiversity comprising hundreds of plant and animal species. Desert microbes are not well understood, but recent studies have uncovered remarkable diversity of microorganisms especially in biological soil crusts, which cover and stabilize the surfaces of many desert soils. Green algae, which are the simple-bodied, distant relatives of plants, are one of the less-studied groups present in desert soil crusts.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have discovered and formally described multiple new species of green algae from various desert regions around the world. These new species typically do not dazzle us with their looks. Under the microscope we see them as small single cells, round in shape and green in color.

Our most reliable tool for their identification is DNA sequencing. Sometimes, species whose looks are virtually indistinguishable from each other are then revealed to be very different in their DNA, showing us that they are not closely related. Our most recent discovery is a rather extreme example of not just a new species or new genus. Johansenicoccus represents an entire evolutionary lineage that is so far only known to occur in California.

There are no known close relatives of this enigmatic alga, which physically looks like many other algal species but is genetically unique. Among its genetic peculiarities are the never-before-seen modifications of its ribosomal genes. As we continue to study the desert microbiota, we can expect further discoveries that expand our understanding of what is possible inside a cell and in its DNA.

Read More:
[Plant Ecology Evolution] – Johansenicoccus eremophilus gen. et sp. nov., a novel evolutionary lineage in Chlorophyceae with unusual genomic features

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