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    Microalgae: Why should we be grateful for their existence?

    Camilla Olivieri—Universita-Politecnica delle Marche & University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    About the research:

    The appearance and spread of oxygenic photosynthesis changed the face of the planet and made possible the development of life as we know it. During evolution and at present a fundamental role was played by phytoplankton, a heterogenic group that includes microalgae and cyanobacteria, responsible for more than 45% of our planet’s annual primary production, ecologically important as base of trophic nets, and considered involved in the control of carbon ocean chemistry through the so called biological carbon pump.

    In the Algal Physiology Laboratory of the Università Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona, Italy, research is focused on many different topics. Some studies deal with the evolution of microalgae, through the reconstruction of paleoenvironmental conditions that could have influenced and driven the spread of photosynthetic organisms during the time. The opportunity to produce biodiesel from microalgae at an industrial scale is becoming reality and in Ancona’s laboratory we are trying to recognize the best "algal" candidate and, above all, which nutritional conditions can increase the oleogenic capability of microalgae. There also exists a strong interest regarding the potential of algae to adapt to changes that can occur in their environment: in particular, their responses to the atmospheric CO2 increase, a topic more and more interesting at present.

    In order to study the capacity of algae to change macromolecular pools allocation in response to high atmospheric CO2 concentration, we are using the synchrotron based infrared spectroscopy here at the Synchrotron Radiation Center. Thanks to this technique, which allows us to focus on the single cell, we will be able to follow the short- and long-term changes that algae activate and, in addition to that, to recognize the variability of these responses within a population.