Algae: the world’s most important “plants”—an introduction

TitleAlgae: the world’s most important “plants”—an introduction
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsChapman, RLeonard
JournalMitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
Pagination5 - 12
Date Published01/2013
ISBN Number1573-1596

Early in the history of life, algae changed the planet’s atmosphere by producing oxygen, thus paving the way for the evolution of eukaryotic organisms. In an era in which the consumption of fossil fuels is a prime topic of concern, few people realize that the oil we currently exploit comes mostly from Cretaceous deposits of marine algae. Moving from ancient times to the present, the algae remain more important than most people realize. Today, the production of oxygen by algae (ca. 50% of all oxygen production) is another reason for saying “our lives depend on algae.” Those who love seafood should thank the algae because algae are the primary producers upon which aquatic ecosystems depend. Thanks should come from all who are vegetarians or omnivores, because all land plants derive from a freshwater class of green algae and all land-animals—including the cows that provide the steaks for meat-lovers—depend directly or indirectly on land plants for food and often for shelter as well. As we use up the oil deposits provided by the ancient algae, we are turning to the modern algae for help. Given the photosynthetic abilities of the algae, they are one of the major focuses for sustainable biofuel production and CO2 consumption. Finally, the algae that give us the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the fuel for our cars (past and, perhaps, future), are also a source of active pharmaceutical compounds that can be used against drug-resistant bacterial strains, viruses (including Herpes Simplex and AIDS), and cancers. Roses are pretty and oak trees are impressive, but no other groups of “plants” have done so much, for so long, and, for so many as have the algae!