A new study has found that several types of aquatic algae can detect orange, green and blue light.

Land plants have receptors to detect the common visual optical wavelengths in the air, light on the red and far red of the spectrum. That allows them to sense the light and move and grow as their environment changes, such as when another plant shades them from the sun.

But the ocean is a different environment. Water absorbs red wavelengths and reflects colors such as blue and green. As part of the study, and the team sequenced about 20 different marine algae and found they were capable of detecting not only red light, but also many other colors. 

"It's an amazing innovation of these algae to sense the whole rainbow," says Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Senior Fellow Alexandra Worden, who leads a microbial ecology research group at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.

Her lab selected and grew the algae for sequencing in a collaborative effort with CIFAR Fellow Adrián Reyes-Prieto. They specifically targeted diverse but largely unstudied organisms that might reveal new evolutionary insights into photosynthetic organisms. 

"The phytoplankton in the oceans are, of course, really important to regulating our climate, and we just never knew that they were able to sense our environment in this way,"

The research could also help with food production by teaching us ways to engineer crops so they will grow in many light conditions.

in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research