Colorado State University researchers discover why some algae are brown

September 21, 2022 |

In Colorado, if you think of algae, you might think of the brilliant green strands waving in a stream or the blue-green blooms that invade lakes. But the majority of these diverse aquatic organisms that exchange sunlight for energy are brown-colored, like the large forests of seaweeds found in polar regions or coastal California.

Brown algae are brown (and therefore not as pretty) because they have evolved a special set of pigments that absorb even more light for photosynthesis than green plants and green algae do. This makes brown-colored algae extremely important to life on Earth, producing 20% of the oxygen we breathe. The biochemical mechanisms by which these brown algae are so good at converting sunlight into energy has so far been a mystery to scientists.

Colorado State University biologists, in partnership with researchers in Germany and China, have unveiled foundational new insights into the evolutionary steps these algae took to make their novel brown pigments, which are called fucoxanthin.

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Category: Research

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