Research at the Center for Algology is focused on three main areas:
- Taxonomy of cyanobacteria and algae
- Ecology and ecophysiology of cyanobacteria and algae in extreme environments
- Physiology and biochemistry of cyanobacteria and algae
Many field and laboratory methods have been developed for studies in our center. Topics of these studies include molecular biology, influences of abiotic and biotic factors on morphology, variability and cell structure as well as physiological and biochemical characteristics of extremophilic photoautotrophic microorganisms and life cycles of cyanobacteria and algae. The research is performed not only in the Czech Republic, but also in many specific localities around the world where our scientists have linked up with excellent international groups. Scientists and doctoral fellows of the Center for Phycology also work at the Czech J.G. Mendel Antarctic Station on James Ross Island (Antarctica) and the station at Billefjorden Bay on the west coast of Petuniabukta, Isfjorden (central Svalbard), the establishment of which the Institute of Botany played a significant role.
Cyanobacteria and algae are collected and studied in a wide range of conditions, fromtropics to the polar regions. Isolated strains are kept in the Culture Collection of Algal Laboratory (CCALA). From 2002 to 2004, CCALA participated in the European project COBRA (Conservation of a vital European scientific and Biotechnological Resource: microAlgae and cyanobacteria), which focused on long-term preservation of cyanobacterial and algal strains in liquid nitrogen. Today, CCALA offers 172 strains of cyanobacteria, 345 strains of algae and 142 strains of mosses. Most of these strains are kept in growth cultures as well as in liquid nitrogen.
More information on cyanobacteria and algae can be found on the webpage “Cyanobacteria and algae”, prepared in cooperation with the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia.
Polyphasic approaches that use classic taxonomic studies of cyanobacteria and algae in combination with electron microscopy and molecular biology methods result in modern, complex, but also practical and useful identification keys and monographs. The important and reputable keys of Süsswasserflora von Mitteleuropa series are an example of this. Experimental molecular biology methods have also enabled deep insight into the taxonomy of Cyanobacteria, adaptation mechanisms and diversification processes, and the coincidence of structural, molecular and biochemical markers. A modern global database of Cyanobacteria (www.cyanodb.cz) has been established. It mainly focuses on dominant species and the less-known biotopes of the Czech Republic and central Europe and to populations from extreme habitats (polar and tropical ecosystems).
Diatoms are also an important algal group studied in Třeboň. The investigation of diatom species composition found in the tertiary layers of diatomites led to the data complementation for the environment reconstruction and its changes in the recent geological history of this area. Two parts of the determination key for central freshwater diatoms were published; the first is focused on families Melosiraceae, Orthoseiraceae,Paraliaceae and Aulacoseiraceae, and the second on families Melosiraceae andAulacoseiraceae. A third part that includes the genus Cyclotella sensu lato is being prepared.
Special interest is being given to the modern taxonomic classification of green filamentous algae, mainly to branched types from the order Chaetophorales. This revision is based on combined molecular methods and on the study of life cycles and variability under various natural ecological situations.
Long-term research in polar regions resulted in the establishment of two Czech polar stations in the Antarctic and Arctic regions. Material for the study of the taxonomy and diversity of algae as well as data regarding the adaptation of cyanobacteria and algae to extreme environments and the ecology of periphyton communities was obtained during expeditions to the Svalbard Archipelago and James Ross Island. New possibilities have arisen to study the ecology of cryosestic communities, endolithic organisms, lichens and the algae of lakes that serve as a refuge for oligotrophic species of streams and springs. Many of our publications concentrate on succession in newly deglaciated localities. Some field experiments are being carried out on unique cultivation units where basic environmental conditions can be controlled and the reaction of the algae to proposed environmental condition changes studied.
Our alpine region research focuses on the molecular genetics and ecophysiology of snow algae (cryoseston) because these algae represent an excellent model for studying adaptations to low temperature, high irradiance and high UV radiation levels, and can serve as a source of biotechnologically interesting compounds. From 2005 to 2007, the human impact on phytobenthos in creeks in the Krkonoše, Jeseníky and Šumava-Bavarian Forest mountains, was investigated. Acidification, industrial and private wastes and agriculture were the most important factors influencing phytobenthos in the Šumava and Krkonoše Mountains, even though a significant effect of traffic was not observed.
These studies of the ecology and biodiversity of thermophilic and tropic cyanobacteria, completed in cooperation with institutions in Brazil, Bulgaria, South Africa, Sweden and the USA, have clarified frequent ecological specialties and the geographical distribution of many species. Selected thermophilic strains have been tested for their production of biotechnologically interesting compounds – the thermophilic cyanobacterium Arthronema africanum could be used to produce phycocyanin, a pigment used in the food and cosmetic industries.
Physiological and biochemical experiments focus on the study of physical (temperature, light and UV radiation) and chemical (salinity, heavy metals, antibiotics) factors on growth, photosynthesis, production of biotechnologically interesting compounds, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) or carotenoids, and on cytoskeleton (“cellular bones”). The results of the physiological and biochemical studies are used by the Center for Bioindication and Revitalization where the Třeboň group is responsible for development of new bioassay methods, isolation of cyanobacterial and algal strains from extreme localities and their screening for the presence and/or production of biologically active compounds, and testing of the usage of lipid producing algae, especially Trachydiscus andBotryosphaerella, for final water purification in the wastewater treatment plant in Třeboň.