Algal Cell Walls


Algal cell walls are composed of a diverse array of fibrillar, matrix and crystalline polymers interacting with various ions and water. The diverse array of cell walls exhibited in the various algal groups is a manifestation of ancient evolutionary origins and ecological pressures of modern earth habitats. Cell walls often represent the dominant component of the extracellular matrix and represent the largest or a significant percentage of the photosynthetically fixed carbon of the algae. Walls are typically fibrous composites of microfibrillar polysaccharides embedded in matrix polysaccharides and proteoglycans. Scales and extracellular polymeric substances may also constitute the algal extracellular matrix. The production of the cell walls requires the highly coordinated interaction of several subcellular systems and is controlled by complex gene expression programmes. Modern technologies employed from immunology, molecular genetics, biochemistry and microscopy‐based imaging are transforming our understanding of the cell structure, functions and development.

Key Concepts:

  • Algae represent a diverse group of photosynthetic eukaryotes with a wide range of cell wall types.

  • New technologies derived from immunology, microscopy‐based imaging, molecular genetics and biochemistry are greatly enhancing our understanding of algal cell walls.

  • Primitive green algae of the Prasinophyceae produce layers of multishaped scales.

  • The Charophycean green algae produce cell walls containing polymers similar to land plants.

  • The red algae possess complex composite cell walls made of cellulose, xylan or mannan fibrils and extensive matrix polysaccharides including the economically important carrageenan and agar.

  • Diatoms produce highly sculpted frustules made of silica‐based composites and often produce extensive stalks and other extracellular polymeric substances.

  • Brown algae produce cell walls containing cellulose, matrix polysaccharides and in some cases, phenolics.

Keywords: cellulose; pectins; scales; frustule; carageenan; align; morphogenesis; algae

Figure 1.

The scaly extracellular covering of the green alga, Mesostigma viride. (a) View through the flattened, biflagellated cell showing the noticeable scale‐covering (arrowheads). Bar, 1 μm. (b) Glancing section of the cell surface. Note the three layers of the scales, the small underlayer of scales (long arrow), the middle layer, oval scales (small arrowhead) and the large basket scales (wide arrow). Bar, 500 nm. (c) View through a preparation of isolated basket scales (arrows). Bar, 500 nm. (d) Magnified view of the basket scale (arrow) revealing the intricate design of the lattice and supporting struts. Bar, 60 nm. (e) A whole cell labelled with a fluorescent‐labelled antibody raised against the basket scale. Note the linear array of scales (arrows) upon the cell surface. Approximately 800 scales can cover a typical cell. Bar, 3 μm. (a)–(d) were processed for conventional transmission electron microscopy while (e) was processed for immunofluorescence light microscopy.

Figure 2.

The cell wall of the chlamydomonad green alga, Gloeomonas kupfferi. (a) Thin section through the wall; (b) deep etch freeze fracture preparation of the cell wall. For details, see Domozych and Dairman . Note the multilayered nature of the wall with a dense, fibrillar, inner layer (IL), a crystalline median layer (arrowheads) and a fibrous outer layer (OL). The chlamydomonad cell wall consists of an aggregation of hydroxyproline‐rich glycoproteins. (a) Bar, 275 nm; (b) Bar, 250 nm.

Figure 3.

The cell wall of the CGA taxon, Penium margaritaceum. (a) JIM5, a monoclonal antibody that is specific to high esterified pectin, labels the pectin lattice of the mature wall. (b) CBM3a, a carbohydrate‐binding module that is specific for crystalline cellulose labels the inner wall of the cell wall. (c) JIM7, a monoclonal antibody that binds to high esterified pectins labels a thin band in the cell centre. See Domozych et al. for details. (a) Bar, 5 μm, (b) Bar, 5 μm and (c) Bar, 17 μm.

Figure 4.

Transmission electron microscopy of the cell wall of the CGA taxon, Penium margaritaceum. The most distinctive component of the wall is a series of dense aggregation of pectin fibrils that form a unique outer lattice. Bar, 200 nm.

Figure 5.

Scanning electron microscopy images of the diatom Didymosphaenia. (a) This diatom produces a silica‐based frustule and a distinct stalk. (b) The frustule (arrow) is highly ornate with multiple openings, several of which are used for the extrusion of EPS. (a) Bar, 50 μm, (b) Bar, 20 μm.



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Domozych, David S(Sep 2011) Algal Cell Walls. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000315.pub3]