A team of researchers has captured images of green alga consuming bacteria, offering a glimpse at how early organisms dating back more than 1 billion years may have acquired free-living photosynthetic cells. This acquisition is thought to have been a critical first step in the evolution of photosynthetic algae and land plants, which, in turn, contributed to the increase in oxygen levels in Earth's atmosphere and ocean and provided one of the conditions necessary for animal evolution.
In a paper that appears in the June 17 issue of Current Biology and is available online today, researchers identify a mechanism by which a green alga that resembles early ancestors of the group engulfs bacteria, providing conclusive evidence for a process that had been proposed but not definitely shown.
"This behavior had previously been suggested but we had not had clear microscopic evidence until this study," said Eunsoo Kim, assistant curator in the Museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology and corresponding author on the paper. "These results offer important clues to an evolutionary event that fundamentally changed the trajectory of the evolution of not just photosynthetic algae and land plants, but also animals."