Colonization of Land by Conjugating Green Algae

Project leader: Andreas Holzinger

Project members: Beatrix Jungwirth, Klaus Herburger, Ilse Kranner, Erwann Arc, Wolfgang Stöggl (University of Innsbruck), Martina Pichrtová, Yvonne Nemcová , (Prague, Czech Republic), Burkhard Becker (Cologne, Germany), Dimitry Deheyn (La Jolla, CA, USA), Rosalina Stancheva (San Marcos, CA, USA)

Funding: FWF (Austrian Science Fund) I-1951-B16 (PI: Andreas Holzinger), GACR (Czech Science Foundation) 15-34645 L PI: Martina Pichrtová

Duration: 2015-2019

In this international (bilateral) research project, Austrian and Czech project partners will work closely together making benefit of their complimentary expertise. Conjugating green algae (Zygnematophyceae) are considered to be closest algal relatives to land plants (Embryophyta). They grow in an aeroterrestrial environment that allowed colonization of land. In Polar (Svalbard, Norway) or high Alpine regions, filamentous Zygnematophyceae often produce relatively large amounts of biomass. Therefore, they are ideal model organisms for studying stress tolerance mechanisms connected with transition to land. The central goal of the project is to understand strategies that allowed plants to colonize land.
Zygnematophyceae have the ability to form particularly tolerant permanent stages, akinetes, derived from vegetative cells. Naturally occurring stress scenarios (desiccation, freezing, UV irradiation) will be simulated under simplified but monitorable laboratory conditions. Multi gene phylogeny along with investigations of the biochemical composition by a metabolomics approach will be performed. Moreover, cell walls will be investigated with a particular focus on polymers known to act as plasticizers of the cell walls, important for desiccation tolerance. Spectral properties of Zygnematophyceae will be investigated at the subcellular level by hyperspectral imaging to investigate pigment distribution and UV tolerance. The results on the survival strategies of Zygnematophyceae will bring new insight in an evolutionary and global change context.

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