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16:54 PM

New Genus of Algae Named After CSUSM Professor Bob Sheath

By Christine Vaughan

Researchers at Ohio University in collaboration with European colleagues have named a new group of red algae Sheathia after CSUSM professor Dr. Bob Sheath, an aquatic biologist and one of the preeminent experts on North American freshwater algae. The newly identified genus, or collection of species, can be found in freshwater streams both locally and worldwide. This is the first time an organism has been named after a CSUSM professor.  

"The total number of species on earth is estimated to be 8.7 million," explained College of Science and Mathematics Dean Katherine Kantardjieff. "To have an organism named after you is a distinct honor that places Dr. Sheath in very distinguished company as a scientist. CSUSM is extremely proud of his achievement. Dr. Sheath joins a group of notable individuals who have organisms named for them, including naturalist David Attenburough, as well as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama."

The new group of Sheathia algae was formerly lumped in with the Batrachospermum genus, until a research team led by Morgan Vis, professor of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University, recently discovered a subgroup within the species that shared a distinct morphological characteristic, known as heterocortication, and is distinct on DNA sequence gene trees. A term coined by Dr. Sheath, heterocortication describes a mix of spherical and cyclical cells that cover the main axis or branch of the organism. The varied cell-structures are believed to help protect the algae from breaking apart in the moving current of the stream.  

The splitting of the Batrachospermum genus, as well as the unveiling of the new Sheathia genus, will be published in upcoming issue of the Journal of Phycology and can be read online.  

"We think it is fitting to name this genus after Dr. Bob Sheath as it has many of the North American taxa that he has worked to elucidate the systematics as well as the ecology,” said Dr. Vis.  

Having the new name published in the Journal of Phycology, one of the most cited journals in aquatic botany, is also a touching tribute for Dr. Sheath after serving five years as the editor-in-chief of the publication.  

“It’s a big honor to have my work in the field of freshwater algae be recognized in this way,” said Dr. Sheath.  

Dr. Sheath has been studying freshwater algae for almost 40 years. In 2012 his lab at CSUSM was certified as the California Primary Algae Laboratory, the only lab in the State of California to collect and catalog freshwater algae samples.

Read more about Dr. Sheath's work in Clean Water, Green Water.