Astonishing & Magnificent Algae

Article by Paul Gaylon
Inspired by The Astonishing, Magnificent, Delightful Algae
Author: Dr. William Barry

Characteristics of Algae

Algae have enabled the animals of the world, including human beings, to occupy an otherwise hostile atmospheric environment. This is most likely due to their wonderful innovation of having the ability to produce oxygen, It is believed that algae alone, among all the photosynthesizing plants, produce enough oxygen to sustain all the animals in the world. It is also known that algae fix more carbon, i.e. make more sugar, than all the rest of the world’s plants combined. (Arms, K. and P.S. Camp, 1987).

Algae also produce large quantities of carbon dioxide through respiration and decomposition. It is critical that this gas, CO2, is available to other algae and green plants. They cannot survive without it. Therefore, algae complete the cycle by first using CO2 to make sugar and then releasing CO2 when they oxidize sugar for energy. These sugars are made into more complex sugars, proteins, fats, hormones, and enzymes.

Algae use their multiple sugars (polysaccharides) to build containers of cellulose around themselves which we know as cell walls. They have a gelatinous sheath and can be mobile if necessary. All algae are composed of self-sufficient cells.

Algae make lipids (fats) from simpler glycerol and fatty acids. Phospholipids are an important class of lipids that contain phosphorous, a fat-soluble nutrient. Other lipids contain fatty acids in combination with carbohydrates or proteins, thus erasing the distinctions between these three major food groups. Some photosynthesizing algae simply absorb nutrients from their surroundings when there is insufficient light; these species can live quite nicely in the dark (N.G. Carr & B.A. Whitton, 1982, page 4).

Cyanobacteria (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae)

Cyanobacteria (AFA) have had a successful existence for the past 3.5 billion years and have changed very little over time. They have mastered their environments, their competitions, light and temperature conditions, as well as physical and chemical changes. Cyanobacteria have survived and thrived by learning many tricks, such as learning to produce the precise amount of enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids to keep themselves healthy. Blue-green algae have learned which pigments to produce and use in various light situations in order to produce their required food. They have learned to take optimal amounts of nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the air and water (as well as minerals from water) to thrive (p. 23).

Phaeophtya (brown algae), Ptilota (red-colored algae), and Codium Intricatum (dark green color) are especially rich in iodine. They contain 11 types of pigments, all amino acids, and many growth factors via coenzymes. These algae are composed of 15–21% complex carbohydrates and 3.7% lipids.

Algae have adapted to the air, soil, and water in every type of environment and in all temperature ranges over their 35 million-year existence. They can be single-celled, small cell colonies, matted strands of cells or aggregates, or wall celluloses with gelatinous sheaths. Their food is stored as carbohydrate proteins (Prokaryotes). Phaeophtya (brown algae) are able to use atmospheric nitrogen to extract CO2 from the bicarbonates (HCO3).