The genetic map of a microscopic algae that absorbs huge amounts of greenhouse gases has been unravelled, U.S. scientists said Thursday.

"These organisms are incredibly important in the global carbon cycle," said Virginia Armbrust, professor of oceanography at the University of Washington and lead author of an article in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal Science.

Cell Walls of a Diatom

The tiny diatom exists in such large quantities that the plant is thought to absorb as much climate-changing carbon dioxide as all the world's jungles, the University of Washington said in a statement.

As a group, the single-celled algae generate as much as 40 percent of the 50 billion to 55 billion tons of organic carbon produced each year in the sea, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, the statement said.

Mapping the diatom's genome "gives insight into how the diatom species Thalassiosira pseudonana and other phytoplankton are vital components of the biosphere's role in mediating global warming," Armbrust said.

The study also helps understand how the diatom thrives in the ocean, researchers said.

"Now that we have a glimpse at the inner workings of diatoms, we're better positioned to understand how changes in the environment will translate into increase or decreases in diatom abundance," said Dan Rokhsar, a co-author of the study who heads computational genomics at the Joint Genome Institute.

The U.S. Energy Department funded the study.