Published on: 22-Oct-2020
Assistant Professor Adriana Lopes dos Santos of the Asian School of the Environment (ASE) has recently been awarded a project approval from the Joint Genome Institute's (JGI) highly competitive Community Science Program.
Organized annually, the Program is a part of the JGI's mission to facilitate large-scale genomics research. Each year, the Program calls for the submission of projects that not only propose solutions to important problems related to energy and the environment, but also embrace the spirit of collaborative research.
Prof Lopes dos Santos's project, titled New Green Genes, was selected from over 80 submitted proposals, and is also the only project from an Asian institution to receive an approval from the JGI.
Combining a broad spectrum of highly complementary and inter-disciplinary expertise, the project will be conducted in tandem with international institutions as well as other labs within NTU.
The genesis of New Green Genes, which aims to address gaps in genome research on unicellular green algae, stems from an ongoing underrepresentation of genome sequences in certain green algae groups.
"There is currently a significant bias in sequenced representatives that hampers our understanding of their diversity as well as their role in the environment," Prof Lopes dos Santos explained in a statement.
It means that despite the thousands of algae species in currently in existence (estimated to be around 7000) from 13 different lineages, there are only a paltry 89 green algae nuclear genomes available in the genomic database GenBank. And of those 89, over 80% are restricted to two groups of organisms that either serve as model systems (e.g. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) or are considered to be of economic importance (e.g. Chlorella and Nannochloris).
As a response, Prof Lopes dos Santos hopes New Green Genes will help "improve access to a more phylogenetically diverse set of genes and genomes of green algae, [which will allow] researchers to explore previously untapped pools of biological data".
This serves two broad functions – to establish a new metabolic pathway of economic interest (e.g. with polymers for the production of bioplastics), as well to further develop innovative environmental solutions.
The project also intends to explore the genomics traits associated with sexual cycles in green algae. Green algae are essential to aquaculture, simultaneously serving as feedstocks for biomass and in high-value product application.
Gaining an understanding of the sex-determination mechanisms of green algae and how their sex cycles can be controlled paves the way for producing more advanced strains through breeding, a process which is also facilitated by their natural diversity.
As Prof Lopes dos Santos notes, "Genomics research on unicellular green algae is far from having reached its full potential."
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