|Marine algae: Coccolithophores|
February 15, 2002
Here, GNN highlights five research papers on one-celled plants in the ocean known as coccolithophores.
See also GNN's Art Gallery Plankton blooms in the ocean.
Emiliania huxleyi is a unicellular marine alga that is considered to be the world's major producer of calcite. The life cycle of this alga is complex and is distinguished by its ability to synthesize exquisitely sculptured calcium carbonate cell coverings known as coccoliths. These structures have been targeted by materials scientists for applications relating to the chemistry of biomedical materials, robust membranes for high-temperature separation technology, lightweight ceramics, and semiconductor design. To date, however, the molecular and biochemical events controlling coccolith production have not been determined. In addition, little is known about the life cycle of E. huxleyi and the environmental and physiological signals triggering phase switching between the diploid and haploid life cycle stages. We have developed laboratory methods for inducing phase variation between the haploid (S-cell) and diploid (C-cell) life cycle stages of E. huxleyi. Plating E. huxleyi C cells on solid media was shown to induce phase switching from the C-cell to the S-cell life cycle stage, the latter of which has been maintained for over 2 years under these conditions. Pure cultures of S cells were obtained for the first time. Laboratory conditions for inducing phase switching from the haploid stage to the diploid stage were also established. Regeneration of the C-cell stage from pure cultures of S cells followed a predictable pattern involving formation of large aggregations of S cells and the subsequent production of cultures consisting predominantly of diploid C cells. These results demonstrate the ability to manipulate the life cycle of E. huxleyi under controlled laboratory conditions, providing us with powerful tools for the development of genetic techniques for analysis of coccolithogenesis and for investigating the complex life cycle of this important marine alga.
Appl Environ Microbiol 2001 Sep;67(9):3824-31.
The algal osmolyte, dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP), is abundant in the surface oceans and is the major precursor of dimethyl sulphide (DMS), a gas involved in global climate regulation. Here, we report results from an in situ Lagrangian study that suggests a link between the microbially driven fluxes of dissolved DMSP (DMSPd) and specific members of the bacterioplankton community in a North Sea coccolithophore bloom. The bacterial population in the bloom was dominated by a single species related to the genus Roseobacter, which accounted for 24% of the bacterioplankton numbers and up to 50% of the biomass. The abundance of the Roseobacter cells showed significant paired correlation with DMSPd consumption and bacterioplankton production, whereas abundances of other bacteria did not. Consumed DMSPd (28 nM day(-1)) contributed 95% of the sulphur and up to 15% of the carbon demand of the total bacterial populations, suggesting the importance of DMSP as a substrate for the Roseobacter-dominated bacterioplankton. In dominating DMSPd flux, the Roseobacter species may exert a major control on DMS production. DMSPd turnover rate was 10 times that of DMS (2.7 nM day(-1)), indicating that DMSPd was probably the major source of DMS, but that most of the DMSPd was metabolized without DMS production. Our study suggests that single species of bacterioplankton may at times be important in metabolizing DMSP and regulating the generation of DMS in the sea.
Environ Microbiol 2001 May;3(5):304-11.
The formation of calcareous skeletons by marine planktonic organisms and their subsequent sinking to depth generates a continuous rain of calcium carbonate to the deep ocean and underlying sediments. This is important in regulating marine carbon cycling and ocean-atmosphere CO2 exchange. The present rise in atmospheric CO2 levels causes significant changes in surface ocean pH and carbonate chemistry. Such changes have been shown to slow down calcification in corals and coralline macroalgae, but the majority of marine calcification occurs in planktonic organisms. Here we report reduced calcite production at increased CO2 concentrations in monospecific cultures of two dominant marine calcifying phytoplankton species, the coccolithophorids Emiliania huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica. This was accompanied by an increased proportion of malformed coccoliths and incomplete coccospheres. Diminished calcification led to a reduction in the ratio of calcite precipitation to organic matter production. Similar results were obtained in incubations of natural plankton assemblages from the north Pacific ocean when exposed to experimentally elevated CO2 levels. We suggest that the progressive increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations may therefore slow down the production of calcium carbonate in the surface ocean. As the process of calcification releases CO2 to the atmosphere, the response observed here could potentially act as a negative feedback on atmospheric CO2 levels.
Nature 2000 Sep 21;407(6802):364-7.
The relationship between calcite biomineralisation and coccolith ultrastructure is analysed across the diversity of calcifying haptophytes. The emphasis is on integration of evidence from crystallographic and ultrastructural studies but additional relevant information from biochemical and phylogenetic work is reviewed. We attempt to identify aspects of ultrastructure which are most likely to be the product of self-organising processes. The principal topics reviewed are heterococcolith rim nucleation, including reassessment of the V/R model; crystal growth regulation in heterococcoliths; holococcolith biomineralisation; and the diversity of other biomineralisation modes in haptophytes. It is concluded that the diverse range of calcareous structures produced by haptophytes probably has a common phylogenetic origin and is produced via operation of a limited set of mainly shared genetic and biochemical pathways. Copyright 1999 Academic Press.
J Struct Biol 1999 Jun 30;126(3):195-215.
Unicellular marine algae known as coccolithophores are potentially important organisms for the study of gravitational effects on biomineralization. The cells are easily cultured under low maintenance conditions and produce intricately sculpted calcite scales known as coccoliths in specialized Golgi-derived vesicles. Many mutants are available with different types of mineral defects ranging from the complete absence of mineral to the presence of mineral with orientational, morphological, number, and size defects. This short review summarizes what is currently known about the three phases of coccolith mineralization--mineral ion transport, mineral nucleation, and crystal growth--in Pleurochrysis carterae and Emiliania huxleyi in the earth's normal gravitational field.
Gravit Space Biol Bull 1999 May;12(2):5-14.
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