Taxonomy and risk classification of algae; Informing the risk classification of a dynamic taxonomic group

Research reports | 13.10.2021 | CGM 2021-01

Over the last years, COGEM has been asked several times to classify algae and cyanobacteria. Because of the expected increase in the number of such requests, COGEM has commissioned a literature research project into the taxonomy and biological characteristics of algal and cyanobacterial species. This research project was carried out by Perseus BVBA.
Algae are a diverse group of organisms and many algal groups are not evolutionary related to each other. The researchers point out that the taxonomy of algal species is dynamic and subject to change.
The researchers gathered information on the characteristics of approximately 500 species. The investigation focused on the potential to survive in a temperate climate, and on indications for pathogenicity, toxicity, allergenicity, ability to form algal blooms, cause anoxia or other harmful characteristics. The ca. 500 species were selected because they are (or are expected to be) used as production organisms, because they represent certain taxonomic groups, or because information on their risk or safety profile is available. The researchers noted that there are species with a so-called GRAS status (‘generally recognised as safe’) that display hazardous characteristics under certain conditions.
The researchers emphasize the importance of correctly identifying the species that is being used.  ‘Safe’ species and species that can cause harm (sometimes only under specific conditions) can be present within the same genus. It was not possible to identify taxonomic groups that contain only ‘safe’ or only harmful species. Therefore, the researchers concluded that a case-by-case approach is needed to classify algal and cyanobacterial species.

The research report is accompanied by three supplementary documents: the taxonomic landscape of algae and cyanobacteria, the features of ca. 500 species and the references that were consulted. These can be downloaded by clicking on the corresponding link.

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