What is Algae?
Algae (sing. alga) are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms. there are nearly 30,000 algae species. the largest and most complex marine forms are called seaweeds, with 10,000 species. they are photosynthetic, like plants, and "simple" because they lack the many distinct organs found in land plants. 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to as blue-green algae) were traditionally included as "algae" in older textbooks, many modern sources regard this as outdated and restrict the term algae to eukaryotic organisms.
All true algae therefore have a nucleus enclosed within a membrane and chloroplasts bound in one or more membranes. algae constitute a paraphyletic and polyphyletic group, as they do not all descend from a common algal ancestor, although their chloroplasts seem to have a single origin. algae lack the various structures that characterize land plants, such as phyllids and rhizoids in nonvascular plants, or leaves, roots, and other organs that are found in tracheophytes.
They are distinguished from protozoa in that they are photosynthetic. many are photoautotrophic, 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. all algae have photosynthetic machinery ultimately derived from the cyanobacteria, and so produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, unlike other photosynthetic bacteria such as purple and green sulfur bacteria.
Health Benefits: nutrition seaweeds are an important source of food, especially in asia; they are excellent sources of many vitamins
including: a, b1, b2, b6, niacin and c. they are rich in iodine, potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium
Algae is commercially cultivated as a nutritional supplement. one of the most popular microalgal species is spirulina (arthrospira platensis), which is a cyanobacteria (known as blue-green algae), and has been hailed by some as a superfood.
Other algal species cultivated for their nutritional value include; chlorella (a green algae), and dunaliella (dunaliella salina), which is high in beta-carotene and is used in vitamin
c supplements. in china at least 70 species of algae are eaten as is the chinese "vegetable" known as fat choy (which is actually a cyanobacterium). roughly 20 species of algae are used in everyday cooking in japan.
Certain species are edible; the best known, especially in ireland is palmaria palmata (linnaeus) o. kuntze, also known as rhodymenia palmata (linnaeus) kuntze, common name: dulse). this is a red alga which is dried and may be bought in the shops in ireland. it is eaten raw, fresh or dried, or cooked like spinach. similarly, durvillaea antarctica is eaten in chile, common name: cochayuyo.
Porphyra (common name: purple laver), is also collected and used in a variety of ways (e.g. "laver bread" in the british isles). in ireland it is collected and made into a jelly by stewing or boiling. preparation also involves frying with fat or converting to a pinkish jelly by heating the fronds in a saucepan with a little water and beating with a fork. it is also collected and used by people parts of asia, specifically china, korea (gim) and japan (nori) and along most of the coast from california to british columbia. the hawaiians and the maoris of new zealand also use it.
One particular use is in "instant" puddings, sauces and creams. ulva lactuca (common name: sea lettuce), is used locally in scotland where it is added to soups or used in salads. alaria esculenta (common name: badderlocks or dabberlocks), is used either fresh or cooked, in greenland, iceland, scotland and ireland.
The oil from some algae have high levels of unsaturated fatty acids. arachidonic acid (a polyunsaturated fatty acid), is very high in parietochloris incisa, (a green alga) where it reaches up to 47% of the triglyceride pool (bigogno c et al. some varieties of algae are a vegetarian / vegan / plant based source of long chain essential omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (dha) and eicosapentaenoic acid (epa) in addition to vitamin b12. fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids, but the original source is algae, which are eaten by marine life such as copepods and passed up the food chain.
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