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Andrew Alden

Extra Extra! Ehux Sequenced!

By June 15, 2013

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ehuxFor me, the science news of the week was the Nature paper this week announcing that the genes of Emiliania huxleyi have been sequenced. "Ehux" is an extremely important member of the ocean's plankton that grows almost everywhere in the world and pulls carbon dioxide out of the water—and thus, indirectly, the atmosphere—to make those beautiful microscopic disks of calcite, called coccoliths, with which it clothes itself. That makes Ehux the foremost coccolithophore, a word every kid should know. Coccoliths accumulate into the rock known as chalk. The Cretaceous Period got its name from the Latin word for chalk. That means that the age usually known for its dinosaurs (and sometimes its ammonoids) is really the Age of Coccolithophores.

Anyway, Ehux is an important target for gene sequencing. The Nature paper, which notably is open-access, shows that this organism is unusually diverse and has a huge genome with a large number of "optional" genes. This kind of "pan genome" has not previously been found outside the bacteria. I urge you to puzzle your way through the paper as well as read some of the news stories about it.
Emiliania huxleyi — Gerhard Langer, Alfred Wegener Institute

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