Red Algae in the Genomic Age

Volume 13 of the series Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology pp 25-42


Evolutionary History and Taxonomy of Red Algae

  • Hwan Su YoonAffiliated withBigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Email author 
  • , Giuseppe C. ZuccarelloAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington
  • , Debashish BhattacharyaAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers University

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The red algae (Rhodophyta) form a distinct photosynthetic eukaryotic lineage that consists of around 6,000 species including unicellular to large multicellular taxa ( The red algae are unique among eukaryotes in lacking both flagella and centrioles during their entire life cycle (Gabrielson et al., 1990; Graham and Wilcox, 2000). Pit connections, pit plugs, and a triphasic life cycle that are mostly found in the Florideophyceae are also distinguishing characters of the red algae. The photosynthetic organelle (plastid) of red algae is bounded by two membranes and contains chlorophyll-a, phycocyanin, and phycoerythrin as photosynthetic pigments. These pigment complexes, organized in phycobilisomes, are located on the surface of unstacked thylakoid membranes to capture light energy. As a storage product, the red algae produce granulated floridean starch in the cytoplasm that is different from green algal starch. In addition to these unique features, the monophyly of red algae is strongly supported by nuclear, plastid, and mitochondrial gene trees (Freshwater et al., 1994; Ragan et al., 1994; Van de Peer and De Wachter, 1997; Burger et al., 1999; Yoon et al., 2002b, 2004).