Decoding algal genomes: tracing back the history of photosynthetic life on Earth




The last decade has witnessed outstanding progress in sequencing the genomes of photosynthetic eukaryotes, from major cereal crops to single celled marine phytoplankton. For the algae, we now have whole genome sequences from green, red, and brown representatives, and multiple efforts based on comparative and functional genomics approaches have provided information about the unicellular origins of higher plants, and about the evolution of photosynthetic life in general. Here we present some of the highlights from such studies, including the endosymbiotic origins of photosynthetic protists and their positioning with respect to plants and animals, the evolution of multicellularity in photosynthetic lineages, the role of sex in unicellular algae, and the potential relevance of epigenetic processes in contributing to the adaptation of algae to their environment.