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Concept: Diatoms


There is a growing consensus that the ongoing increase in atmospheric CO2 level will lead to a variety of effects on marine phytoplankton and ecosystems. However, the effects of CO2 enrichment on eutrophic coastal waters are still unclear, as are the complex mechanisms coupled to the development of eutrophication. Here, we report the first mesocosm CO2 perturbation study in a eutrophic subtropical bay during summer by investigating the effect of rising CO2 on a model artificial community consisting of well-characterized cultured diatoms (Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Thalassiosira weissflogii) and prymnesiophytes (Emiliania huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica). These species were inoculated into triplicate 4 m(3) enclosures with equivalent chlorophyll a (Chl-a) under present and higher partial pressures of atmospheric CO2 (pCO2 = 400 and 1000 ppmv). Diatom bloom events were observed in all enclosures, with enhanced organic carbon production and Chl-a concentrations under high CO2 treatments. Relative to the low CO2 treatments, the consumption of the dissolved inorganic nitrogen and uptake ratios of N/P and N/Si increased significantly during the bloom. These observed responses suggest more extensive and complex effects of higher CO2 concentrations on phytoplankton communities in coastal eutrophic environments.

Concepts: Algae, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, Diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Diatoms, Planktology


Mechanisms for carbon fixation via photosynthesis in the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum Bohlin were studied recently but there remains a long-standing debate concerning the occurrence of C4 photosynthesis in this species. A thorough investigation of carbon metabolism and the evidence for C4 photosynthesis based on organelle partitioning was needed.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Bacteria, Metabolism, Organism, Mitochondrion, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Diatoms


Diatoms and other phytoplankton in coastal waters experience rapid pH changes in milieu due to high biological activities and/or upwelled CO2-rich waters. While CO2 concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) are employed by all diatoms tested to counter low CO2 availability in seawater, little is known how this mechanism responds to fast pH changes. In the present study, the model diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana was acclimated for 20 generations to low pH (7.81) at an elevated CO2 of 1000 μatm (HC) or to high pH (8.18) at ambient CO2 levels of 390 μatm (LC), then its physiological characteristics were investigated as cells were shifted from HC to LC or vice versa. The maximal electron transport rate (ETRmax) in the HC-acclimated cells was immediately reduced by decreased CO2 availability, showing much lower values compared to that of the LC-acclimated cells. However, the cells showed a high capacity to regain their photochemical performance regardless of the growth CO2 levels, with their ETRmax values recovering to initial levels in about 100 min. This result indicates that this diatom might modulate its CCMs quickly to maintain a steady state supply of CO2, which is required for sustaining photosynthesis. In addition, active uptake of CO2 could play a fundamental role during the induction of CCMs under CO2 limitation, since the cells maintained high ETR even when both intracellular and periplasmic carbonic anhydrases were inhibited. It is concluded that efficient regulation of the CCM is one of the key strategies for diatoms to survive in fast changing pH environment, e.g. for the tested species, which is a dominant species in coastal waters where highly fluctuating pH is observed.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, PH, Biological oceanography, Bicarbonate, Carbonic acid, Diatom, Diatoms


BACKGROUND: Nitrogen limitation can induce neutral lipid accumulation in microalgae, as well as inhibiting their growth. Therefore, to obtain cultures with both high biomass and high lipid contents, and explore the lipid accumulation mechanisms, we implemented nitrogen deprivation in a model diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum at late exponential phase. RESULTS: Neutral lipid contents per cell subsequently increased 2.4-fold, both the number and total volume of oil bodies increased markedly, and cell density rose slightly. Transcriptional profile analyzed by RNA-Seq showed that expression levels of 1213 genes (including key carbon fixation, TCA cycle, glycerolipid metabolism and nitrogen assimilation genes) increased, with a false discovery rate cut-off of 0.001, under N deprivation. However, most light harvesting complex genes were down-regulated, extensive degradation of chloroplast membranes was observed under an electron microscope, and photosynthetic efficiency declined. Further identification of lipid classes showed that levels of MGDG and DGDG, the main lipid components of chloroplast membranes, dramatically decreased and triacylglycerol (TAG) levels significantly rose, indicating that intracellular membrane remodeling substantially contributed to the neutral lipid accumulation. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings shed light on the molecular mechanisms of neutral lipid accumulation and the key genes involved in lipid metabolism in diatoms. They also provide indications of possible strategies for improving microalgal biodiesel production.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Protein, Gene expression, Metabolism, Cell membrane, Lipid, Diatom, Diatoms


Climate change is expected to bring about alterations in the marine physical and chemical environment that will induce changes in the concentration of dissolved CO(2) and in nutrient availability. These in turn are expected to affect the physiological performance of phytoplankton. In order to learn how phytoplankton respond to the predicted scenario of increased CO(2) and decreased nitrogen in the surface mixed layer, we investigated the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum as a model organism. The cells were cultured in both low CO(2) (390 μatm) and high CO(2) (1000 μatm) conditions at limiting (10 μmol L(-1)) or enriched (110 μmol L(-1)) nitrate concentrations. Our study shows that nitrogen limitation resulted in significant decreases in cell size, pigmentation, growth rate and effective quantum yield of Phaeodactylum tricornutum, but these parameters were not affected by enhanced dissolved CO(2) and lowered pH. However, increased CO(2) concentration induced higher rETR(max) and higher dark respiration rates and decreased the CO(2) or dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) affinity for electron transfer (shown by higher values for K(½ DIC) or K(½ CO2)). Furthermore, the elemental stoichiometry (carbon to nitrogen ratio) was raised under high CO(2) conditions in both nitrogen limited and nitrogen replete conditions, with the ratio in the high CO(2) and low nitrate grown cells being higher by 45% compared to that in the low CO(2) and nitrate replete grown ones. Our results suggest that while nitrogen limitation had a greater effect than ocean acidification, the combined effects of both factors could act synergistically to affect marine diatoms and related biogeochemical cycles in future oceans.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Effect, PH, Ocean, Diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Diatoms


Diatoms are one of the most important groups of phytoplankton in terms of abundance and ecological functionality in the ocean. They usually dominate the phytoplankton communities in coastal waters and experience frequent and large fluctuations in light. In order to evaluate the combined effects of ocean warming and acidification on the diatom’s exploitation of variable light environments, we grew a globally abundant diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana under two levels of temperature (18, 24 °C) and pCO2 (400, 1000 μatm) to examine its physiological performance after light challenge. It showed that the higher temperature increased the photoinactivation rate in T. pseudonana at 400 μatm pCO2, while the higher pCO2 alleviated the negative effect of the higher temperature on PSII photoinactivation. Higher pCO2 stimulated much faster PsbA removal, but it still lagged behind the photoinactivation of PSII under high light. Although the sustained phase of nonphotochemical quenching (NPQs) and activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) were provoked during the high light exposure in T. pseudonana under the combined pCO2 and temperature conditions, it could not offset the damage caused by these multiple environmental changes, leading to decreased maximum photochemical yield.

Concepts: Superoxide dismutase, Carbon, Biological oceanography, Ocean, Carbonic acid, Diatom, Diatoms, Plankton


Fucoxanthin is a natural pigment found in microalgae, especially diatoms and Chrysophyta. Recently, it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-obesityactivity in humans. Phaeodactylum tricornutum is a diatom with high economic potential due to its high content of fucoxanthin and eicosapentaenoic acid. In order to improve fucoxanthin production, physical and chemical mutagenesis could be applied to generate mutants. An accurate and rapid method to assess the fucoxanthin content is a prerequisite for a high-throughput screen of mutants. In this work, the content of fucoxanthin in P. tricornutum was determined using spectrophotometry instead of high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This spectrophotometric method is easier and faster than liquid chromatography and the standard error was less than 5% when compared to the HPLC results. Also, this method can be applied to other diatoms, with standard errors of 3-14.6%. It provides a high throughput screening method for microalgae strains producing fucoxanthin.

Concepts: Algae, Chromatography, High performance liquid chromatography, High-throughput screening, Diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Diatoms, Planktology


The ecological prominence of diatoms in the ocean environment largely results from their superior competitive ability for dissolved nitrate (NO3-). To investigate the cellular and genetic basis of diatom NO3- assimilation, we generated a knockout in the nitrate reductase gene (NR-KO) of the model pennate diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum. In NR-KO cells, N assimilation was abolished although NO3-transport remained intact. Unassimilated NO3- accumulated in NR-KO cells, resulting in swelling and associated changes in biochemical composition and physiology. Elevated expression of genes encoding putative vacuolar NO3- chloride channel (ClC) transporters plus electron micrographs indicating enlarged vacuoles suggested vacuolar storage of NO3-. Triacylglycerol concentrations in the NR-KO cells increased immediately following the addition of NO3-. and these increases coincided with elevated gene expression of key TAG biosynthesis components. Simultaneously, induction of transcripts encoding proteins involved in thylakoid membrane lipid recycling suggested more abrupt repartitioning of carbon resources in NR-KO cells compared to WT. Conversely, ribosomal structure and photosystems genes were immediately deactivated in NR-KO cells following NO3- addition, followed within hours by deactivation of genes encoding enzymes for chlorophyll biosynthesis and carbon fixation and metabolism. N-assimilation pathway genes respond uniquely, apparently induced simultaneously by both NO3- replete and deplete conditions.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cell, Bacteria, Diatoms


A short-term, localized outbreak of diatoms attached to live corals was observed along the coast of Sesoko Island, Okinawa, Japan in February, 2011. Diatoms are recognized as brown patches in the initial stage, becoming fluffy encrustations and resulting in complete or partial coral death. Attached diatoms, including Licmophora, Climacosphenia, Ardissonea and others, attached and overgrew exclusively Montipora corals, which are dominant corals in some parts of Sesoko reef. Heavily-covered colonies or branches died. The rate of affected corals reached 80% in the worst-affected area. Microscopic observation showed that most diatoms settled directly with polysaccharide stalks or pads onto the partly-bared skeleton of coral branches, although some settled on coral soft tissues. Although no similar phenomenon was reported from other areas of Japan, cold-water events might have important roles in coral weakening, as a consequence, enabling diatom attachment on corals, thus leading to coral death in this area.

Concepts: Algae, Coral reef, Scleractinia, Observation, Cell wall, Coral bleaching, Anthozoa, Diatoms


The optical properties of diatom silicate frustules inspire photonics and nanotechnology research. Whether light interaction with the nano-structure of the frustule also affects diatom photosynthesis has remained unclear due to lack of information on frustule optical properties under more natural conditions. Here we demonstrate that the optical properties of the frustule valves in water affect light harvesting and photosynthesis in live cells of centric diatoms (Coscinodiscus granii). Microscale cellular mapping of photosynthesis around localized spot illumination demonstrated optical coupling of chloroplasts to the valve wall. Photonic structures of the three-layered C. granii valve facilitated light redistribution and efficient photosynthesis in cell regions distant from the directly illuminated area. The different porous structure of the two sides of the valve exhibited photon trapping and forward scattering of blue light enhancing photosynthetic active radiation inside the cell. Photonic structures of diatom frustules thus alter the cellular light field with implications on diatom photobiology.

Concepts: Algae, Photosynthesis, Optics, Light, Photosynthetically active radiation, Diatom, Diatoms, Frustule