We are one step closer to understanding how polar organisms are impacted by climate change after an international team of researchers has identified the genetic mutations which allowed micro algae (phytoplankton) from the Southern Ocean to adapt to extreme and highly variable climates.
The team led by Prof Thomas Mock from the University of East Anglia (UEA) School of Environmental Sciences investigated the evolutionary genomics of the polar diatom Fragilariopsis cylindrus, which has evolved to thrive in the Southern Ocean but also occurs in the Arctic Ocean. Genome sequencing was carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (Walnut Creek, US) and the Earlham Institute (EI) (Norwich, UK).
How phytoplankton have evolved to cope with polar marine conditions of strong seasonality, sub-zero temperatures and extended periods of darkness was largely unknown. The genome sequence from Fragilariopsis cylindrus represents the first complete genome of a polar eukaryote – a ‘higher’ organism with complex cells.
Fragilariopsis cylindrus is a key species especially in the Southern Ocean and thrives in sea ice, underpinning one of the most unique food webs on Earth feeding krill, penguins, seals and whales.
Most phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean face inclusion into sea ice every winter and are released again in summer when most of the sea ice melts. Species such as Fragilariopsis cylindrus have evolved adaptations to cope with these drastic environmental changes.
The researchers found that they do this by varying their alleles, which has not been shown in any marine organism before. Alleles are variant forms of a gene, which are located at the same position, or genetic locus, on a chromosome. Fragilariopsis cylindrus is a diploid organism because it has two alleles at each genetic locus.
Our study identified that almost a quarter of the genome contained allelic variants
Prof Mock said: “Our study identified that almost a quarter of the genome contained allelic variants. These alleles were differentially expressed across important environmental conditions, and we found evidence that those conditions were causing the allelic differentiation. As the effective population size of this polar diatom is huge, there is an allele for every occasion, which seems to make this organism extremely adaptable to changing environmental conditions.”
The study, published today in the journal Nature, is a significant step in understanding how polar organisms have evolved to cope with their extremely variable environmental conditions and therefore their potential to adapt to environmental changes induced by human activity. Limited research is carried out into polar organisms because of the many challenges presented by working in polar regions and by working with these organisms in the laboratory and this work has taken more than nine years from the initial idea.
Scientists at EI used cutting edge genomics technology and bioinformatics expertise to carry out additional studies on the original genome assembly provided by the Joint Genome Institute (US). With funding from an Institute Development Grant, Dr Mark McMullan, Dr Pirita Paajanen in the group of Dr Matt Clark (Technology Development) used the latest PacBio long-read sequencing and assembly software to generate a new genome assembly and assign the allelic variations to separate chromosomes.
Dr Paajanen said: “This is the first time at EI that a genome of this type was assembled into chromosomes. It is only very recently that the technology has been developed to cope with such a highly heterozygous organism and the data show that this diatom does actually have a large amount of variation within their genes. This result adds weight to the theory that this is an important to help the organism deal with the extreme environments in the ocean around the Antarctic continent. Using our assembly, we showed that the original genome assessment was correct, and were able to prove it, due to EI’s strengths in advanced sequencing technology and high-performance computing.”
Dr Clark, added: “This was a very interesting biological question that the latest technologies make much easier to address. Using long DNA sequencing and assembly methods to assemble both the allelic copies of a gene helped demonstrate the unusual genome biology necessary for this species to succeed in the Southern Ocean surrounding the Antarctic continent.”
The work is also relevant to the biotechnology industry, which has an interest in extremophiles – organisms which thrive in extreme conditions and are a potentially valuable source of industrially important enzymes.
Funding for this work came from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Program, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Royal Society and the Earth & Life Systems Alliance (ELSA).
‘Evolutionary genomics of the cold-adapted diatom Fragilariopsis cylindrus’ is published in the journal Nature on 16 January 2017.
Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?
The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?
The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.
Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.
The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.
Introducing New Technology
The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.
- To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
- Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
- Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.
How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy
Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.
The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.
The Internet of Things
Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.
Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.
It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.
“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)
The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.
4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy
Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.
However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?
A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.
1. Boulder Nissan
When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:
- Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
- They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
- Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.
This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.
2. Valley Electric Association
In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.
“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”
The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.
This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.
3. Las Vegas Casinos
A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.
“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”
There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.
4. Boston College
Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.
Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.
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