Diatoms, a class of microalgae, are found in nearly all marine and freshwater habitats and are the most species-rich algal class, with at least 100,000 species. They are important to the world’s eco-system and contribute to 20% of global carbon fixation and oxygen production. However, with genomic information from only about 10 diatoms, our ability to harness their unique biology is very limited. The ‘100 Diatom Genomes Project’ will sequence 100 diatom species from across the tree of life (Fig. 1) to provide insights into their key roles in capturing carbon dioxide and as the foundation of diverse aquatic food webs. 

Fig. 1 The Diatom Tree of Life (adapted from Tree of Life project)

These insights will also be critical for advancing diatom-based biotechnology, for example nanotechnology for sensor development and drug delivery, and synthetic biology platforms for the production of nutraceuticals, such as antioxidants and dietary supplements, as well as biofuels and carbon capture.

The ‘100 Diatom Genomes Project (100DGP)’ is one of 27 proposals that have won financial support through the annual Community Science Program (CSP) call of the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI), which makes large-scale genomics available to researchers studying relevant issues in energy and environment. Principal investigator Prof Thomas Mock, of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Support from JGI for sequencing 100 diatom genomes will catapult diatom research to an entirely new level. Thus, this project will be a game changer for our understanding of the biology and diversity of one of the most significant groups of algae that have shaped life on Earth for millions of years.” The three-year project involves more than 20 collaborators from different countries (Germany, US, UK, France, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Belgium and China) and is open for new collaborations worldwide.

Inclusiveness is important for this project to succeed and to make the most of this novel resource for the global algal community and beyond.

Thomas Mock is a professor at the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. Email Thomas or drop a message below if you have any questions about the post.