Basics of Algae

What are Algae?

Algae are simple plants that can range from the microscopic (microalgae), to large seaweeds (macroalgae), such as giant kelp more than one hundred feet in length. Microalgae include both cyanobacteria, (similar to bacteria, and formerly called “blue-green algae”) as well as green, brown and red algae. (There are more varieties of microalgae, but these are the main ones.)

Algae can be grown using water resources such as brackish-, sea-, and wastewater unsuitable for cultivating agricultural crops. When using wastewater, such as municipal, animal and even some industrial runoff, they can help in its treatment and purification, while benefiting from using the nutrients present.

Most microalgae grow through photosynthesis – by converting sunlight, CO2 and a few nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorous, into material known as biomass This is called “autotrophic” growth. Other algae can grow in the dark using sugar or starch (called “heterotrophic” growth), or even combine both growth modes (called “mixotrophic” growth).

Algae are very diverse and found almost everywhere on the planet. They play an important role in many ecosystems, including providing the foundation for the aquatic food chains supporting all fisheries in the oceans and inland, as well as producing about 70 percent of all the air we breathe.

Video

UCSD’s Dr. Mitchell gives a lesson in algae 101

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