Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Biological Sciences


Michael R Gretz


A comprehensive knowledge of cell wallstructure and function throughout the plant kingdom is essential to understanding cell wall evolution. The fundamental understanding of the charophycean green algal cell wall is broadening. The similarities and differences that exist between land plant and algal cell walls provide opportunities to understand plant evolution. A variety of polymers previously associated with higher plants were discovered in the charophycean green algae (CGA), including homogalacturonans, cross-linking glycans, arabinogalactan protein, β-glucans, and cellulose. The cellulose content of CGA cell walls ranged from 6% to 43%, with the higher valuescomparable to that found in the primary cell wall of land plants (20-30%). (1,3)β-glucans were found in the unicellular Chlorokybus atmophyticus, Penium margaritaceum, and Cosmarium turpini, the unbranched filamentous Klebsormidium flaccidum, and the multicellular Chara corallina.

The discovery of homogalacturonan in Penium margaritaceum representsthe first confirmation of land plant-type pectinsin desmids and the second rigorous characterization of a pectin polymer from the charophycean algae. Homogalacturonan was also indicated from the basal species Chlorokybus atmophyticus and Klebsormidium flaccidum. There is evidence of branched pectins in Cosmarium turpini and linkage analysis suggests the presence of type I rhamnogalacturonan (RGI). Cross-linking β-glucans are associated with cellulose microfibrils during land plant cell growth, and were found in the cell wall of CGA. The evidence of mixed-linkage glucan (MLG) in the 11 charophytesis both suprising and significant given that MLG was once thought to be specific to some grasses. The organization and structure of Cosmarium turpini and Chara corallina MLG was found to be similar to that of Equisetumspp., whereas the basal species of the CGA, Chlorokybus atmophyticus and Klebsormidium flaccidum, have unique organization of alternating of 3- and 4-linkages. The significance of this result on the evolution of the MLG synthetic pathway has yet to be determined.

The extracellular matrix (ECM) of Chlorokybus atmophyticus, Klebsormidium flaccidum, and Spirogyra spp. exhibits significant biochemical diversity, ranging from distinct “land plant” polymers to polysaccharides unique to these algae. The neutral sugar composition of Chlorokybus atmophyticus hot water extract and Spirogyra extracellular polymeric substance (EPS), combined with antibody labeling results, revealed the distinct possibility of an arabinogalactan protein in these organisms. Polysaccharide analysis of Zygnematales (desmid) EPS, indicated a probable range of different EPS backbones and substitution patterns upon the core portions of the molecules. Desmid EPS is predominately composed of a complex matrix of branched, uronic acid containing polysaccharides with ester sulfate substitutions and, as such, has an almost infinite capacity for various hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic interaction and ionic cross-bridging motifs, which characterize their unique function in biofilms.

My observations support the hypothesis that members of the CGA represent the phylogenetic line that gave rise to vascular plants and that the primary cell wall of vascular plants many have evolved directly from structures typical of the cell wall of filamentous green algae found in the charophycean green algae.

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