1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Algae/Polymorphism

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The difficulty of tracing the relationships of algae is largely due to the inadequacy of our knowledge of the conditions under Polymorphism. which they pass through the critical stages of their life-cycle. Of the thousands of species which have been distinguished, relatively few have been traced from spore to spore, as the flowering plants have been observed from seed to seed. The aquatic habit of most of the species and the minute size of many of them are difficulties which do not exist in the case of most seed-plants. From the analogy of the higher plants observers have justly argued that when they have seen and marked the characters of the reproductive organs they have found the plant at the stage when it exhibits its most noteworthy features, and they have named and classified the species in accordance with these observations. While even in such cases it is obvious that interesting stages in the life of the plant may escape notice altogether, in the cases of those plants the reproduction of which is unknown, and which have been named and placed on the analogy of the vegetative parts alone, there is considerable danger that a plant may be named as a distinct species which is only a stage in the life of another distinct and perhaps already known species. To take an example, Lemanea and Batrachospermum are Florideae which bear densely-whorled branches, but which, on the germination of the carpospore, give rise to a laxly-filamentous, somewhat irregularly-branched plant, from which the ordinary sexual plants arise at a later stage. This filamentous structure has been attributed to the genus Chantransia, which it generally resembles, especially when, as is said to be the case in Batrachospermum, it bears similar monospores. The true Chantransia, however, bears its own sexual organs as well as monospores. To the specific identity of Haplospora globosa and Scaphospora speciosa, and of Cutleria multifida and Aglaozonia reptans, reference has already been made. Again, may Green Algae—some unicellular, like Sphaerella and Chlamydomonas; some colonial forms, like Volvox and Hormotila; some even filamentous forms, like Ulothrix and Stigeoclonium—are known to pass into a condition resembling that of a Palmella, and might escape identification on this account.

It is, on the other hand, a danger in the opposite sense to conclude that all Chantransia species are stages in the life-cycle of other plants, and, similarly, that all irregular colonial forms, like Palmella represent phases in the life of other Green Algae. Long ago Kützing went so far as to express the belief that the lower algae were all capable of transformations into higher forms, even into moss-protonemata. Later writers have also thought that in all four froups of algae transformations of a most far-reaching character occur. Thus Borzi finds that Protoderma viride passes through a series of changes so varied that at different times it presents the characters of twelve different genera. Chodat does not find so general a polymorphism, but nevertheless holds that Raphidium passes through stages represented by Protococcus, Characium, Dactylococcus and Sciadium. Kelbs has, however, recently canvassed the conclusions of both these investigators; and as the result of his own observations declares that algae, so far from being as polymorphic as they have been described, very only within relatively narrow limits, and present on the whole as great fixity as the higher plants. It certainly supports his view to discover, on subjecting to a careful investigation Botrydium granulatum, a siphonaceous alga whose varied forms had been described by J. Rostafinski and M. Woronin, that these authors had included in the life-cycle stages of a second alga described previously by Kütxing, and now described afresh by Klebs as Protosiphon botryoides. In Botrydium the chromatophores are small, without pyrenoids, and oil-drops are present; in Protosiphon the chromatophores form a net-work with pyrenoids, and the contents include starch. Klebs insists that the only sulution of such problems is the subjection of the algae in question to a rigorous method of pure culture. It is interesting to learn that G. Senn, pursuing the methods described by Klebs, has confirmed Chodat’s observation of the passage of Raphidium into a Dacctylococcus-stage, although he was unable to observe further metamorphosis. He has also seen Pleurococcus viridis dividing so as to form a filament, but has not succeeded in seeing the formation of zoospores as described by Chodat. While, therefore, there is much evidence of a negative character against the existence of an extensive polymorphism among algae, some amount of metamorphosis is known to occur. But until the conditions under which a particular transformation takes place have been ascertained and described, so that the observation may be repeated by other investigators, scant credence is likely to be given to the more extreme polymorphistic views. In comparison with the higher plants, algae exhibit so much simplicity of structure, while the conditions under which they grow are so much more readily controlled, that they have frequently been the subject of physiological investigation with a view chiefly to the application of the results to the study of the higher plants. (See Plants: Physiology of.) In the literature of vegetable physiology there has thus accumulated a great body of facts relating not only to the phenomena of reproduction, but also to the nutrution of algae. With reference to their chemical physiology, the gelatinization of the cell-wall, which is so marked a feature, is doubtless attributable to the occurrence along with cellulose of pectic compounds. There is, however, considerable variation in the nature of the membrane in different species; thus the cell-wall of Oedogonium, treated with sulphuric acid and iodine, turns a bright blue, while the colour is very faint in the case of Spirogyra, the wall of which is said to consist for the most part of pectose. While starch occurs commonly as a cell-content in the majority of the Green Algae no trace of it occurs in Vaucheria and some of its allies, nor is it known in the whole of the Phaeophyceae and Rhodophyceae. In certain Euphaeophyceae bodies built up of concentric layers, and attached to the chromatophores, were described by Schmitz as phaeophycean-starch; they do not, however, give the ordinary starch reaction. Other granules, easily mistaken for the “starch” granules, are also found in the cells of Phaeophyceae; these possess a power of movement apart from the protoplasm, and are considered to be visicles and to contain phloroglucin. The colourless granules of Florideae, which are supposed to constitute the carbohydrate reserve material, have been called floridean-starch. A white efflorescence which appears on certain Brown Algae (Saccorhiza bulbosa, Laminaria saccharina), when they are dried in the air, is found to consist of mannite. Mucin is known in the cell-sap of Acetabularia. Some Siphonales (Codium) give rise to proteid crystalloids, and they are of constant occurrence among Florideae. The presence of tannin has been established in the case of a great number of freshwater algae.