Living without light

An international team is trying to find out how microscopic algae survive in the darkness of a polar winter.

The team, led by Marcel Babin, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Canada’s New Arctic Frontier at Université Laval and director of the Takuvik Joint International Laboratory, received a research grant totalling US$750,000 over three years from the Human Frontier Science Program Organization.

A total of 672 teams submitted a letter of intent for this latest competition. Of that number, 65 submitted a full application, and 25 projects received grants. Babin jointly submitted an application with Chris Bowler, director of environmental and evolutionary genomics at the Institut de biologie de l'École normale supérieure. Their application ranked fourth in the assessment.

The project aims to reveal what physiological and molecular mechanisms enable microscopic algae in polar regions to survive for long periods of time without light. More specifically, it will focus on two species: Fragilariopsis cylindrus and Thalassiosira gravida. The researchers will combine their complementary expertise to better understand what happens at the physiological, cellular, genomic, epigenetic and metabolic level during the polar night period, and once light returns in the spring.

The Human Frontier Science Program is an international research funding program that aims to advance knowledge through intercontinental collaborations between researchers. Created in the wake of the G7 summit held in Venice in 1987, the program supports basic research focused on the complex mechanisms of living organisms. Since its establishment, it has funded over 6,000 projects in more than 70 countries.

A version of this article was first published in Le Fil, Université Laval’s newspaper.