Biodiversity in focus (algae are plants, too)
The NSF has put out a great video and a nice write-up talking about the importance of studying biodiversity. Light receptors from today's plant of the week, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, have been harnessed as critical tools in optogenetics, a revolutionary new field in the study of neurobiology. Without basic, curiosity-driven research into organisms that most of us would dismiss as pond scum, scientists might never have been able to develop optogenetics, and never have been able to use it as a tool to understand how the human brain works. While trawling the internet for images, I found out about watermelon snow. Microbes growing in the snow, particularly Chlamydomonas nivalis, have red light-absorbing pigments in them, giving the snow it's watermelon-y color. Apparently, it even gives off odors a bit like watermelons when you stand on it.