The main aim of PHYCOMORPH is to unify a scattered European research landscape to enable a step-change in the basic knowledge of macroalgal reproduction and development, and to ensure appropriate and efficient transfer to R&D and Innovation Institutes dedicated to the development of aquaculture techniques, in tune with current needs in Europe and worldwide. Consequently, PHYCOMORPH will undertake for the first time a strictly interdisciplinary approach, combining molecular/developmental biology, genetics, and analytical chemistry.
Macroalgae (seaweeds) are multicellular organisms living mainly in marine or fresh water (a few live almost permanently out of water). As plants, they use light to fix atmospheric carbon dissolved in water. Macroalgae are amongst the most powerful carbon-fixing organisms on earth. Their size ranges from a few millimetres up to 50 metres.
Our current knowledge about the evolution of life indicates that different types of macroalgae arose from different biological events. Green and red algae share common ancestors with land plants, while brown algae evolved independently. In spite of this distinct evolution, macroalgae display similar morphological features, related to their life in an aquatic environment. Their body is flexible to suit permanent motion in water; germ cells are mobile to allow fertilization and crosses between female and male organisms; as they are immersed in water, macroalgae lack true vascular tissue to conduct water in different parts of the algal body; as light is their source of energy, macroalgae grow towards light (phototropism); they have developed specific organs to allow them to float on the water surface; they are capable of rapidly modifying their morphology in response to environmental conditions.
The current knowledge of the biological mechanisms involved in both basic macroalgal development, and how it is modified by environmental changes is scarce. Our network aims to increase this knowledge, using different technical tools, including : genetics, genomics, high-throughput transcriptomics and proteomics, microscopy, metabolomics and modelling.
We employ these techniques
- to determine how macroalgae reproduce (differentiation of reproductive organs, release of germ cells, fertilisation), to identify
- the important events during early stages of macroalgal development (fixation, polarisation of the egg/zygote, establishment of the developmental pattern leading to the main body growth axes), and
- how macroalgae colonise the water space and environment (body size, dispersion) before producing the next generation.
The network is composed of international academic laboratories each addressing one or several issues related to macroalgal development. The dynamics of the network is based on regular meetings and student exchanges in order to share both recent progresses and experience in technicals skills.