The picobiliphytes, like most microalgae, probably acquired their pigments through an evolutionary act of cooperation, Not added.
Another organism probably lived inside the picobiliphytes and provided them with an energy supply in the form of the light-absorbing pigments, Not said.
In this case, judging from the type of pigments involved, the picobiliphytes probably got their pigments from a reddish microalgae, he added.
Food for the Future
While the discovery is a potential boom for biodiversity, it isn't likely to attract investors just yet, Not said.
"This is primarily pure fundamental research with no commercial application," he said. "The main fields of research impacted by this discovery are the microbial ecology and the evolution of eukaryotes"—organisms that contain cells with a nucleus.
But Robert Andersen, director of the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Culture of Marine Phytoplankton in Maine, says the discovery is "terrific" and may turn out to have "considerable value" commercially.
Andersen said other phycobilin-producing algae are commercially grown for their pigments, which are used in products such as cosmetics.
"Phycobilipigments are also rich sources of protein, and they are used as a food source in aquaculture hatcheries," he said.
If the new picobiliphytes can be grown in sufficient quantities to provide such a nutrient source, he added, "they will really be valuable."
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