The small alga with a big impact

August 11, 2022

For a single-celled alga, Chlamydomonas—or simply “Chlamy” to those who study it—occupies a unique place in evolutionary history. It retains ancestral features of both plant and animal cells, shares nearly 7,000 genes with other organisms (including a third found in both humans and flowering plants), and contains hundreds of genes associated with carbon dioxide capture and biomass generation.

Plant and Microbial Biology Professor Sabeeha Merchant recently spoke with the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), a Department of Energy research facility that is celebrating its 25th anniversary, about the profound impact of sequencing the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii genome.

Then at UC Los Angeles, Merchant joined the JGI effort to produce a complete sequence of the Chlamydomonas genome in the early 2000s. A partial sequence of the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii genome was published in 2003; then in 2007 the full genome was sequenced and published in the journal Science.

Sequencing the genome has helped countless other researchers: data mined by the JGI shows that those sequences have been cited in nearly a quarter of publications focused on that specific alga, and roughly 10% of all publications on green algae.

Hear Merchant talk more about the Chlamydomonas in this video and recent podcast produced by the JGI, and learn more about her research in this faculty spotlight from the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3).