• diatoms;
  • ferredoxin;
  • flavodoxin;
  • iron;
  • photosynthesis;
  • phytoplankton

Despite recognition that Fe availability is significant in regulating oceanic production in some regions, the biogeochemistry of this trace element is poorly understood. To complement contemporary methods of analytical chemistry, we have used an immunological approach to monitor the Fe nutrition of marine phytoplankton. In prokaryotes and numerous microalgae, the redox catalyst ferredoxin is functionally replaced by flavodoxin during periods of Fe deficiency. In this study, antibodies were raised against ferredoxin purified from a marine diatom, and their utility as a diagnostic indicator was assessed. A species survey demonstrated broad reactivity with both pennate and centric diatoms and additionally with several nondiatom taxa. In batch cultures of the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum Bohlin, in which Fe levels were varied, accumulation of ferredoxin varied with the physiological state of the culture; in unimpaired cells (Fv/Fm≥ 0.65), ferredoxin levels were high, whereas levels dropped markedly in cells experiencing even slight photochemical impairment. Accumulation of flavodoxin varied inversely with that of ferredoxin. An experiment was performed to demonstrate the temporal pattern of accumulation of ferredoxin upon recovery from Fe limitation. Prior to Fe amendment, cells were physiologically impaired (chlorotic, Fv/Fm < 0.3) and contained flavodoxin but no detectable ferredoxin. Following addition of Fe, constraints on photochemistry were relaxed within hours. Coinciding with this, levels of flavodoxin declined, whereas ferredoxin was accumulated to high levels within 8 h.