Silvia Vidal Melgosa How Do Microalgae Remove Carbon from the Atmosphere?

Since 2015, Silvia Vidal Melgosa has been a postdoctoral researcher in the MARUM MPG Group for Marine Glycobiology at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology. Having completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Barcelona, Vidal Melgosa was awarded her PhD at the University of Copenhagen in 2015. Her research interests include the marine carbon cycle, cell wall biology and the polysaccharide composition of microalgae. The joint holder of two patents, Vidal Melgosa’s research has appeared in numerous journals including Nature Communications, The Plant Cell and The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Area of Research


since 2015

Postdoctoral Researcher

Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (more details)

with Prof. Dr. Jan-Hendrik Hehemann. Group of Marine Gycobiology.


PhD in Biotechnology

University of Copenhagen

Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Supervisor: Prof. William G. T. Willats.


Second cycle degree in Food Science and Technology

Universitat de Barcelona

Faculty of Pharmacy



Analytic Laboratory Valls, Spain



Clinical Analysis Laboratory of Pius Hospital, Valls, Spain


Bachelor in Biology

Universitat de Barcelona

Faculty of Biology

Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology


At the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (MPIMM), we are investigating microorganisms in the sea and other waters. What role do they play, what are their characteristics and how great is their biodiversity? What is the contribution of microorganisms to the global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and iron? What does this mean for our environment and our climate? These and many other questions will be answered by researchers from around the world, engineers, technicians and numerous others at the MPIMM. Their fields of expertise range from microbiology to microsensors, geochemistry to genome analysis and molecular ecology to modelling.
The MPIMM was founded in 1992 and is part of the Max Planck Society (MPG). Since 2002, the MPIMM has been running the International Max Planck Research School of Marine Microbiology (MarMic), a program for highly qualified master students and graduates of our institute and the Bremen Research Alliance partner Bremen University, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and Jacobs University.


MARUM MPG Bridge Group Mar­ine Gly­cobi­o­logy

Algal poly­sac­char­ides are an im­port­ant com­pon­ent of the flux of car­bon rich or­ganic mat­ter from the sur­face ocean into its depth. Most mar­ine poly­sac­char­ides are syn­thes­ized at the sur­face by mi­croal­gae whose an­nual pro­duc­tion is on par with all plants on land even though they only ac­count for about 1-2% of the mar­ine bio­mass.

This com­pet­it­ive pro­duc­tion is caused by in­tense growth and short lifespans; mi­croal­gae live fast and die young (weeks) com­pared to ter­restrial plants (years). They pur­sue a boom and bust life style with rapid growth and ab­rupt pop­u­la­tion crashes whereby algal blooms can ap­pear and dis­ap­pear within weeks or even days. Dur­ing growth and upon death mi­croal­gae secrete co­pi­ous amounts of an­ionic poly­sac­char­ides. These are known to spon­tan­eously ag­greg­ate into particles, which can more rap­idly sink through the wa­ter column and in­ject car­bon into deeper wa­ters (the bio­lo­gical pump). Bac­teria col­on­ize particles and use en­zymes to re­cycle poly­sac­char­ides lead­ing to in­tense bac­terial growth and particle dis­sol­u­tion. This way the in­ter­play between particle form­a­tion and its dis­sol­u­tion may reg­u­late the bio­lo­gical pump and dic­tate how much car­bon is stored in the oceans.

Des­pite the rel­ev­ance of this pro­cess the struc­tures of algal poly­sac­char­ides and their re­cyc­ling by mar­ine mi­crobes re­main a mys­tery. To shed light on this black box of the mar­ine car­bon cycle we study the func­tional evol­u­tion of the bac­terial en­zymatic ma­chines and how they pro­cess algal poly­sac­char­ides in the ocean


Global warming means that mankind needs to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In this video, SILVIA VIDAL MELGOSA highlights the fact that microalgae remove as much carbon as all plants on land and considers what we can learn from these natural processes. Collecting samples during a three month microalgae bloom in the North Sea, Vidal Melgosa underlines the fascinating role played by the polysaccharide molecule sulfated fucan. Resistant to bacteria and encouraging the formation of heavier particles that can sink and thereby store carbon at the bottom of the ocean for millennia, Vidal Melgosa’s analysis of sulfated fucan shows how it could make an important contribution to blue carbon strategies. Further research will explore the global relevance of these findings while also analyzing the contribution of different microalgal polysaccharides.

LT Video Publication DOI:

Diatom Fucan Polysaccharide Precipitates Carbon During Algal Blooms

  • Silvia Vidal-Melgosa, Andreas Sichert, T Ben Francis, Daniel Bartosik, Jutta Niggemann, Antje Wichels, William GT Willats, Bernhard M Fuchs, Hanno Teeling, Dörte Becher, Thomas Schweder, Rudolf Amann and Jan-Hendrik Hehemann
  • Nature communications
  • Published in 2021
Silvia Vidal-Melgosa, Andreas Sichert, T Ben Francis, Daniel Bartosik, Jutta Niggemann, Antje Wichels, William GT Willats, Bernhard M Fuchs, Hanno Teeling, Dörte Becher, Thomas Schweder, Rudolf Amann and Jan-Hendrik Hehemann. "Diatom Fucan Polysaccharide Precipitates Carbon During Algal Blooms." Nature communications 12 (2021): 1–13. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-21009-6.