Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Marine Botany


    Prionitis lanceolata, like all good red algae, has a three-phase life history that involves a gametophyte stage, a carposporophyte stage, and a tetrasporophyte stage. Other characteristics include non-motile gametes and a carposporophyte reliant on the gametophyte.

    Prionitis life history


    The gametophyte stage is what you would likely see of Prionitis if you're just taking a stroll (or scramble) through the intertidal. Reproductive structures are concentrated on the lateral pinnules* closest to the tips of the blades. Gametophytes are haploid and produce haploid gametes. Male gametes (spermatia) and female gametes (carpogonia) are produced on the same plant; however, Prionitis cannot self-fertilize.
              None of Prionitis' gametes have flagella. Thus, spermatia are simply released into the water and are at the mercy of the waves to carry it to a carpogonium. Carpogonia remain in the gametophyte, but they do their part by sticking out a long, skinny trichogyne to "catch" the spermatia as they float by. The spermatium then travels down the trichogyne to fuse with the egg cell (carpogonium). The fertilized carpogonium sends filaments into the medulla to find the auxiliary cell, which is a separate structure involved in reproduction. Once the auxiliary cell is found, a tube called the gonimoblast connects the auxiliary cell to the fertilized carpogonium so that the two can fuse. From here, the carposporophyte begins to develop.


    The diploid carposporophyte is never a free-living organism. It remains embedded in the thallus of the gametophyte and draws some nutrition from the gametophyte. As the carposporophyte matures, nearly all the cells will become diploid carpospores. When the carpospores are mature, they are expelled through the ostiole, a pore that connects the carposporophyte to the outside world. The released carpospores will settle and grow into the tetrasporophytes.


Cruciately divided tetrasporangia (clearer cruciate division circled)

  The tetrasporophyte stage is the other apparent form in the intertidal (or subtidal). It is also diploid. Besides the different reproductive structures, tetrasporophytes and gametophytes look about the same, thus they are considered isomorphic. Tetrasporangia are concentrated on lateral pinnules toward the tips of the blades. They are located just beneath the surface of the thallus. Prionitis has cruciate tetraspores, meaning they undergo meiotic division to result in four tetraspores that form a "cross" shape. These haploid tetraspores are then expelled into the water and settle to become gametophytes, starting the cycle over again.

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Created by Alice Chiu, 2003. Images may be used with permission.