Discovered in the deep: the ‘mermaid’s wineglass’ made up of one giant cell

Acetabularia jalakanyakae, also known as the mermaid’s wineglass, is a species of algae found around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Photograph: Courtesy of Felix Bast.

Growing between the tides around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, are clusters of what look like tiny, green mushrooms. In fact, this is a type of seaweed, or algae – each one made from a single, gigantic cell.

In 2021, scientists named them Acetabularia jalakanyakae, also known as the “mermaid’s wineglass”, because of its umbrella-shaped cap.

Mermaid’s wineglass algae might grow in the relatively unpolluted waters of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but they face a global threat. The ocean is absorbing more anthropogenic carbon from the atmosphere and consequently becoming more acidic, which puts species like the mermaid’s wineglass algae at risk. As Bast explains, more than half of the dry weight of this algae is calcium carbonate, which melts in acidified seawater.

“Any organism, be it animal or a plant, with calcium carbonate is highly prone to ocean acidification,” says Bast. “So, that will be having a tremendous impact on species like Acetabularia because the calcium carbonate will simply dissolve into the acid.”

Helen Scales, The Guardian, 31 October 2022. Full article.

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