Why is algae important to humanity? The UTEX Culture Collection of Algae at the University of Texas at Austin has been in continuous operation since 1953. Richard Starr established the collection at Indiana University in 1952, and it originally included several hundred strains that had been in continuous cultivation since the 1930s. In 1976, the collection moved to The University of Texas at Austin where Starr oversaw its development. Jerry J. Brand became the director of UTEX in 1998, and since then, the collection has grown to more than 2,800 specimens, representing approximately 200 different genera.
Strains in the collection can be applied in a variety of ways to enhance energy production and improve the environment. Algal strains are also important for food production for both animals and humans. Additionally, algae in the collection can be used for other forms of commercial production, such as pigmentation in cosmetics, antiaging treatments, gelling agents in lotions and oils, and tooth- paste. They can be especially useful in making medicines and vitamin supplements.
Perhaps the most diverse group of living organisms on earth, algae can be bacteria or plants, while others are closely related to fungi, and still others are related to animal-like human pathogens. The collection contains examples within each of those major groups and may represent the most diverse range of living genetic stock of any collection in the world. Algae exist in a huge variety of colors, sizes, and shapes and many are large enough to see with the unaided eye.
Cultures are kept in environmentally controlled chambers within a secure room. Some algae can be maintained in a completely inert state at ultracold temperatures. They remain viable in that state of suspended animation for hundreds of years and can be thawed to resume their normal life.
More than 80 percent of the strains housed by UTEX are unique to the collection and expands at the rate of more than two hundred strains per year as scientists identify new kinds of organisms from all over the world and then deposit their discoveries in the collection.
You can read more about this collection as well as others in The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin, edited by Andrée Bober. A digital edition of the book can be downloaded at http://thecollections.utexas.edu
You can also find a beautiful print copy, published by the University of Texas Press, at https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/bober-the-collections