Potentially useful new microalgae discovered in a home aquarium

Microalgae are widely used in products such as biofuels, nutritional supplements and cosmetics. A newly-described type has been found in a home aquarium – and it could prove to be particularly useful.

Known as Medakamo hakoo, the freshwater algae was first discovered several years ago by the University of Tokyo’s Prof. Tsuneyoshi Kuroiwa.

He decided to analyze the water of his home goldfish aquarium under a microscope, after it all turned green shortly after he added a Japanese rice fish to the tank. Once the algae responsible had been cultured and its DNA had been sequenced, it was found to be a previously unknown species.

In a more recent U Tokyo study, it was discovered that M. hakoo has only one mitochondrion (an energy-producing organelle) and just one chloroplast (an organelle that performs photosynthesis). This is much simpler than the cell structure of most other types of green algae – and M. hakoo’s unique characteristics don’t stop there.

“From our research, we have also speculated that it has an unprecedented DNA structure and a new gene regulatory system,” said the lead scientist, Prof. Sachihiro Matsunaga. “Its cell cycle is also strongly synchronized with the day and night cycle, which is key to effective, stable bioproduction. Due to these inherent qualities and extremely small size, M. hakoo can be effectively cultured at high cell density, making it possible to mass produce substances such as highly functional foods, cosmetics and biofuel at a low cost.”

Matsunaga and colleagues are now exploring methods of cultivating Medakamo hakoo on a commercial scale.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Communications Biology 6.

Source: University of Tokyo

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