Chlorophyta: Green Algae
Characteristics: Green colour from chlorophyll a and b in the same proportions as the 'higher' plants; beta-carotene (a yellow pigment); and various characteristic xanthophylls (yellowish or brownish pigments). Food reserves are starch, some fats or oils like higher plants. Green algae are thought to have the progenitors of the higher green plants but there is currently some debate on this point.
Green algae may be unicellular (one cell), multicellular (many cells), colonial (living as a loose aggregation of cells) or coenocytic (composed of one large cell without cross-walls; the cell may be uninucleate or multinucleate). They have membrane-bound chloroplasts and nuclei. Most green are aquatic and are found commonly in freshwater (mainly charophytes) and marine habitats (mostly chlorophytes); some are terrestrial, growing on soil, trees, or rocks (mostly trebouxiophytes). Some are symbiotic with fungi giving lichens. Others are symbiotic with animals, e.g. the freshwater coelentrate Hydra has a symbiotic species of Chlorella as does Paramecium bursaria, a protozoan. A number of freshwater green algae (charophytes, desmids and Spirogyra) are now included in the Charophyta (charophytes), a phylum of predominantly freshwater and terrestrial algae, which are more closely related to the higher plants than the marine green algae belonging to the Chlorophyta (known as chlorophytes). Other green algae from mostly terrestrial habitats are included in the Trebouxiophyceae, a class of green algae with some very unusual features.
Asexual reproduction may be by fission (splitting), budding, fragmentation or by zoospores (motile spores). Sexual reproduction is very common and may be isogamous (gametes both motile and same size); anisogamous (both motile and different sizes - female bigger) or oogamous (female non-motile and egg-like; male motile). Many green algae have an alternation of haploid and diploid phases. The haploid phases form gametangia (sexual reproductive organs) and the diploid phases form zoospores by reduction division (meiosis). Some do not have an alternation of generations, meiosis occurring in the zygote.
Life was indeed very simple when all green-coloured algae were included in a single class, the Chlrophyceae. Increasingly, it has become clear that the green algae are very diverse in their relationships and are now included in two phyla (Chlrophyta and Charophyta) and at least 17 classes! Progress has been so rapid that text-books are out of date almost as soon as they are printed. Up-to-date numbers for each of these classes and their relationships with the Rhodophyta are given by AlgaeBase.
AlgaeBase dynamic species counts shows that there are about 4,500 species of Chlorophyta including about 550 species of Trebouxiophyceae (mostly subaerial and freshwater), 2,500 Chlorophyceae (mostly freshwater), 800 species of Bryopsidophyceae (seaweeds), 50 species of Dasycladophyceae (seaweeds), 400 Siphoncladophyceae (seaweeds), and 250 marine Ulvophyceae (seaweeds). The Charophyta is entirely freshwater and includes 3,500 species currently allocated to 5 classes.
Commercial uses: Organic beta-carotene is produced in Australia from the hypersaline (growing in high salinity water often known as brine) green alga Dunaliella salina grown in huge ponds. Carotene has been shown to be very effective in preventing some cancers, including lung cancer. Caulerpa, a marine tropical to warm-temperate genus, is very popular in aquaria. Unfortunately, this has led to the introduction of a number of Caulerpa species around the world, the best-known example being the invasive species Caulerpa taxifolia.
Chlorella, a genus of freshwater and terrestrial unicellular green alga with about 100 species, is grown like yeast in bioreactors, where it has a very rapid life history. It may be taken in the form of tablets or capsules, or added to foods such as pasta or cookies. Taken in any form, it is said improve the nutritional quality of a daily diet. According to the Taiwan Chlorella Manufacturing Company the increase in processed and refined foods in the diet of modern man make Chlorella an important food supplement for anyone interested in better health.