General Characteristics of Algae

Algae are eukaryotic organisms that have no roots, stems, or leaves but do have chlorophyll and other pigments for carrying out photosynthesis. Algae can be multicellular or unicellular.

Unicellular algae occur most frequently in water, especially in plankton. Phytoplankton is the population of free‐floating microorganisms composed primarily of unicellular algae. In addition, algae may occur in moist soil or on the surface of moist rocks and wood. Algae live with fungi in lichens.

According to the Whittaker scheme, algae are classified in seven divisions, of which five are considered to be in the Protista kingdom and two in the Plantae kingdom. The cell of an alga has eukaryotic properties, and some species have flagella with the “9‐plus‐2” pattern of microtubules. A nucleus is present, and multiple chromosomes are observed in mitosis. The chlorophyll and other pigments occur in chloroplasts, which contain membranes known as thylakoids.

Most algae are photoautotrophic and carry on photosynthesis. Some forms, however, are chemoheterotrophic and obtain energy from chemical reactions and nutrients from preformed organic matter. Most species are saprobes, and some are parasites.

Reproduction in algae occurs in both asexual and sexual forms. Asexual reproduction occurs through the fragmentation of colonial and filamentous algae or by spore formation (as in fungi). Spore formation takes place by mitosis. Binary fission also takes place (as in bacteria).

During sexual reproduction, algae form differentiated sex cells that fuse to produce a diploid zygote with two sets of chromosomes. The zygote develops into a sexual spore, which germinates when conditions are favorable to reproduce and reform the haploid organism having a single set of chromosomes. This pattern of reproduction is called alternation of generations.