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Researchers have sequenced the genome of a diatom — a type of microscopic algae — for the first time. The marine species absorb as much greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as the world's tropical forests combined. The researchers say their findings, published in Science last week, will help build a better understanding of how changes in the algae's population can affect climate change and influence global carbon management.

Already, the genetic sequence has helped explain aspects of the diatom's 'inner workings'. For example, it has shown that the algae have a urea cycle — a way of processing nitrogen that has never been seen in plants before.  It has also helped explain how the diatom uses fats, which it stores in huge amounts enabling the algae to survive long periods with little sunlight. These discoveries should help scientists understand how it responds to changes in sea temperature, sunlight, and nutrients.

The researchers add that the organism's skill at moulding silicon to form its elaborate crust is currently beyond human capabilities. Understanding the underlying design process means it could be adapted by nanotechnologists to advance their manipulation of silica.

Link to full news story on Science Daily

Link to full research paper in Science

Link to accompanying news article in Science