The sensitivity of Emiliania huxleyi (Prymnesiophyceae) to ultraviolet-b radiation


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Emiliania huxleyi (Lohm.) Hay et Miller is an important component of the phytoplankton in open ocean waters. The sensitivity of this cosmopolitan alga to natural levels of UVB radiation has never been tested. Since DNA is believed to be a major target of natural UVB radiation (UVBR: 280–315 nm) in living cells, experiments with E. huxleyi were performed using growth rate reduction and DNA damage as indicators of UVBR stress. Specific growth rate, cell volume, pigment content, and CPD (cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer) formation (a measure for DNA damage) were followed during and after prolonged exposure of a series of cultures to a range of UVBR levels. E. huxleyi was found to be very sensitive to UVBR: at a daily weighted UVBR dose of only 400 J·m−2 ·d−1 (BEDDNA300nm), growth was halted. At this UVBR level, both cell volume and contents of the major photosynthetic and photoprotective pigments had increased. The UVBR vulnerability of E. huxleyi cannot be explained by a high potential for cyclobutane thymine dimer formation (the most abundant CPD type) due to a high T content of nuclear DNA: the CG content of this E. huxleyi strain is high (68%) compared with other species. The high UVBR sensitivity may be related to the stage of the cell cycle during UVBR exposure, in combination with low repair capacity. It is concluded that E. huxleyi may experience UVBR stress through the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers, with subsequent low repair capacity and thereby arrest of the cell cycle.