Increased Sulfur Metabolism is a Likely Survival Mechanism for UAE Algae

Press Release

  • NYU Abu Dhabi researchers have sequenced 22 microalgal genomes from the UAE’s mangroves, open seas, salt flats, deserts, and urban areas
  • This new collection increases the available microalgal genomes by 50 percent
  • Coastal, subtropical species of microalgae show expansion of sulfur-metabolic genes, which help algae cope with salinity and drought

Much of the Earth’s oxygen is regenerated by algae. Despite the importance of algae as global primary producers of our planet, and their potential use in biotechnological applications, whole-genome sequences have been obtained for nearly 40 algal species around the world. As most of these genomes are from temperate microalgae, little is known about algae's adaptive strategies to non-temperate climates, such as those found in the UAE and other subtropical regions.

After nearly five years of bioprospecting and laboratory cultures, NYU Abu Dhabi researchers recently reported the genome sequencing of a large isolated group of algae in the UAE in iScience journal.

NYUAD researchers David Nelson and Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani, in addition to other group members, selected 22 microalgal genomes that they had obtained from the UAE’s mangroves, open sea, salt flats, deserts, and urban areas for whole-genome sequencing and subsequent analyses. Their study reports that microalgae genomes obtained from the subtropics raise the number of publicly available microalgae genomes by approximately 50 percent.

The study also sheds light on how algae’s potential adaptations in the region have evolved to cope with environmental conditions, such as drought and salinity. In particular, they report that genes involved in sulfur metabolism are abundant in the UAE algae and other salt-dwelling species. “This finding can help us develop bioengineering strategies for food crops to be able to grow better in the UAE or similar environments,” explained Salehi-Ashtiani, the study’s senior author.

“As nutrient deprivation and climate change threaten the sensitive, yet ecologically important coastal environments like the UAE’s, this study provides insight on the genomic makeup of their microbial primary producers and their survival mechanisms."

NYU Abu Dhabi Associate Professor of Biology Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and science campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly-selective liberal arts, engineering and science curriculum with a world center for advanced research and scholarship enabling its students to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from 120 nations and speak over 120 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.