DNA Analysis Reveals Origin and Dispersal of the Microorganism Cyanidiophyceae in Iceland

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DNA research provides evidence that some species of Icelandic algae may have originated in northeastern Asia. Species in a study in the current issue of Phycologia have been found coexisting only in Iceland, New Zealand, Russia, and Japan.

Sampling stations from five Icelandic geothermal regions for the Cyanidiophyceae. Arrows indicate collection site from the stations.

A remote, volcanic island surrounded by seawater, Iceland is an excellent place to analyze the biodiversity and dispersal of species that thrive in freshwater environments

Phycologia—The microbial species assigned to the taxonomic class Cyanidiophyceae display worldwide, but discontinuous, distribution. How they came to be found in some parts of the world is a matter of debate among scientists. The Cyanidiophyceae, unicellular organisms that diverged from ancestral red algae about 1.3 billion years ago, live in hot springs and other geothermal habitats. Scientists are using DNA sequences to discover biogeographic patterns of these microorganisms, as shown by a study in the new issue of Phycologia.

Researchers collected environmental samples from five locations in Iceland. Using molecular phylogenetic analysis based on the chloroplast rbcL gene, they studied the origin, dispersal patterns, and diversity of Cyanidiophyceae in Iceland.

A remote, volcanic island surrounded by seawater, Iceland is an excellent place to analyze the biodiversity and dispersal of species that thrive in freshwater environments. Iceland has intense underground volcanic activity, creating hydrothermal areas with distinct ecological conditions, such as fumaroles, geysers, and hot lakes, a perfect environment for thermoacidophilic microfloral organisms such as these. However, Cyanidiophyceae are much older than Iceland itself.

Phylogenetic analysis of Cyanidiophyceae revealed two main species inhabiting Iceland, Galdieria sulphuraria and G. maxima. The only other areas of the world these species coexisted are New Zealand, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, and Japan. Comparison of the Icelandic, Russian, and Japanese populations seems to indicate that Icelandic Cyanidiophyceae originated in and dispersed from northeastern Asia.

In addition to gene sequences, scientists studied past glacial events to discover a pattern of dispersal within Iceland. The southwestern region of Iceland is the diversity center of both the G. sulphuraria and G. maxima species of Cyanidiophyceae, which migrated to the northeast and southeast of the island.

Full text of “Cyanidiophyceae in Iceland: plastid rbcL gene elucidates origin and dispersal of extremophilic Galdieria sulphuraria and G. maxima (Galdieriaceae, Rhodophyta),” Phycologia, Vol. 53, No. 6, 2014, is now available.

About Phycologia
Phycologia, the journal of the International Phycological Society, is published bimonthly in English covering all aspects of algal biology: original research articles, major topical reviews, research notes, commentaries, book reviews, announcements of meetings and field courses and memorials of prominent phycologists. For more information, visit http://www.intphycsoc.org.

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Jason Snell
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