Macroalgal deep genomics illuminate multiple paths to aquatic, photosynthetic multicellularity

David R. Nelson, Alexandra Mystikou, Ashish Jaiswal, Cecilia Rad Menendez, Michael J Preston, Frederik De Boever, Diana C El Assal, Sarah Daakour, Michael W. Lomas, Jean-Claude Twizere, David Green, William C Ratcliff, Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Macroalgae are multicellular, aquatic autotrophs that play vital roles in global climate maintenance and have diverse applications in biotechnology and eco-engineering, which are directly linked to their multicellularity phenotypes. However, their genomic diversity and the evolutionary mechanisms underlying multicellularity in these organisms remain uncharacterized. In this study, we sequenced 110 macroalgal genomes from diverse climates and phyla, and identified key genomic features that distinguish them from their microalgal relatives. Genes for cell adhesion, extracellular matrix formation, cell polarity, transport, and cell differentiation distinguish macroalgae from microalgae across all three major phyla, constituting conserved and unique gene sets supporting multicellular processes. Adhesome genes show phylum- and climate-specific expansions that may facilitate niche adaptation. Collectively, our study reveals genetic determinants of convergent and divergent evolutionary trajectories that have shaped morphological diversity in macroalgae and provides genome-wide frameworks to understand photosynthetic multicellular evolution in aquatic environments.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalMolecular Plant
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2024


  • macroalgae
  • multicellularity
  • comparative genomics
  • evolution
  • adhesome
  • endogenous viral elements


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