Algae (/ˈældʒiː/ or /ˈælɡiː/; singular alga /ˈælɡə/, Latin for "seaweed") are a very large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. Most are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many distinct organs found in land plants. The largest and most complex marine forms are called seaweeds.
Though the prokaryotic cyanobacteria (commonly referred to as blue-green algae) were traditionally included as "algae" in older textbooks, many modern sources regard this as outdated as they are now considered to be bacteria. The term algae is now restricted to eukaryotic organisms. All true algae therefore have a nucleus enclosed within a membrane and plastids bound in one or more membranes. Algae constitute a paraphyletic and polyphyletic group, as they do not include all the descendants of the last universal ancestor nor do they all descend from a common algal ancestor, although their plastids seem to have a single origin. Diatoms are also examples of algae.
Algae exhibit a wide range of reproductive strategies, from simple, asexual cell division to complex forms of sexual reproduction.
Algae lack the various structures that characterize land plants, such as phyllids (leaves) and rhizoids in nonvascular plants, or leaves, roots, and other organs that are found in tracheophytes (vascular plants). Many are phototrophic, although some groups contain members that are mixotrophic, deriving energy both from photosynthesis and uptake of organic carbon either by osmotrophy, myzotrophy, or phagotrophy. Some unicellular species rely entirely on external energy sources and have limited or no photosynthetic apparatus.
Nearly all algae have photosynthetic machinery ultimately derived from cyanobacteria, and so produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, unlike other photosynthetic bacteria such as purple and green sulfur bacteria. Fossilized filamentous algae from the Vindhya basin have been dated back to 1.6 to 1.7 billion years ago.
Famous quotes containing the word algae:
“there, where you live,
the algae of your dreams.”
—Denise Levertov (b. 1923)