Science News

New Species of Seaweed Uncovered by Genetic Analyses

Genetic analyses have revealed remarkably higher species diversity in common red seaweed than previously assumed. It was thought that there were only five related species of the Gloiopeltis genus (known as 'funori' in Japanese) worldwide. However, genetic analyses of historic and modern specimens have revealed that there are over ten in Japan alone.

The reinstatement of the species Gloiopeltis compressa (new Japanese name: Ryukyu-funori) was proposed by this research. It is found in Okinawa and has previously been confused with other species of Gloiopeltis.

These discoveries were made by an international research collaboration group consisting of the following members from Kobe University; Assistant Professor Takeaki Hanyuda, Professor Hiroshi Kawai (both of the Research Center for Inland Seas) and Kensho Yamamura (2nd year Masters in Biology at the Graduate School of Science).

The results of this research were published in the following journals; 'Phycologia' (October 14, 2019) and 'Phycological Research' (October 29, 2019).

Research Findings

Gloiopeltis is a genus of seaweed that is reddish brown to dark yellow in color. Called 'funori' in Japanese, it has been utilized to make glue and binding since ancient times. It is also used as an ingredient in miso soup.

Until recently, there were five identified species worldwide, three of which were found in Japan- 'fukuro-funori', 'ma-funori' and 'hana-funori'. This research team revealed through genetic analyses that there are in fact over ten species of Gloiopeltis in Japan alone.

Analyses of Gloiopeltis furcata

Gloiopeltis furcata has the widest distribution range among Gloiopeltis species. It is found in the inter-tidal zones of temperate to cold water regions covering most of the northern Pacific Coasts. The research team genetically analyzed specimens of G. furcata collected from many habitats across its wide distribution. They revealed that there are 4 to 5 unnamed species that have previously been misclassified. These are easily confused with each other unless genetically analyzed.

The research group also genetically analyzed the type specimen of G. furcata taken from Sitka in Alaska in the 19thcentury. This specimen is currently housed at the V. L. Komarov Botanical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. Analyses revealed that this specimen was very close genetically to the specimens found in the Hokkaido and Tohoku areas of Japan. It was determined that they are conspecific- they belong to the same species. As G. furcata has been reported over a much wider range of Japan, it is thought that there are several different species south of Tohoku- more research is required to illuminate this.

Discovery of an unconfirmed species in Japan

This research also revealed that a species previously found in Korea -- Gloiopeltis frutex -- also grows around Kyushu in southern Japan. Overall, this research has identified a new species, Ryukyu-funori (Gloiopeltis compressa), and has revealed that there is great variation in the Gloiopeltis genus in Japan and worldwide. Continuing research is hoped to illuminate this further.

Journal Reference: Takeaki Hanyuda, Kensho Yamamura, Hiroshi Kawai. Molecular studies of Gloiopeltis (Endocladiaceae, Gigartinales), with recognition of G. compressus comb. nov. from Japan. Phycologia, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.1080/00318884.2019.1663476

Story by Kobe University

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