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Temperature dependence of nitrate reductase activity in marine phytoplankton: biochemical analysis and ecological implications


  • Yu Gao,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089
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      Current address: Center for Agricultural and Molecular Biology, Rutgers University, Foran Hall, Dudley Rd., New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

  • G. Jason Smith,

    1. Moss Landing Laboratories, P.O. Box 450, Moss Landing, California 95039
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  • Randall S. Alberte

    1. Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90024
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The temperature dependence of NADH:NR activity was examined in several marine phytoplankton species and vascular plants. These species inhabit divergent thermal environments, including the chromophytes Skeletonema costatum (12–15° C), Skeletonema tropicum (18–25° C), Thalassiosira antarctica (−2 to 4° C), and Phaeocystis antarctica (−2 to 4° C), the green alga Dunaliella tertiolecta (14–28° C), and the vascular plants Cucurbita maxima (20–35° C) and Zea mays (20–25° C). Despite the difference in growth habitats, similar temperature response curves were observed among the chromophytic phytoplankton, with temperatures optimal for NR activity being between 10–20° C. In contrast, the chlorophyll b-containing alga and vascular plants exhibited optimal temperatures for NR activity above 30° C. Such dramatic differences in NR thermal characteristics from the two taxonomic groups reflect a divergence in NR structure that may be associated with the evolutionary diversification of chromophytes and chlorophytes. Further, it suggests a potential contribution of the thermal performance of NR to the geographic distributions, seasonal abundance patterns, and species composition of phytoplankton communities. NR partial activities, which assess the individual functions of Mo-pterin and FAD domains, were evaluated on NR purified from S. costatum to determine the possible causes for high temperature (>20° C) inactivation of NR from chromophytes. It was found that the FAD domain and electron transport among redox centers were sensitive to elevated temperatures. S. costatum cells grown at 5, 15, and 25° C exhibited an identical optimal temperature (15° C) for NADH:NR activity, whereas the maximal NR activity and NR protein levels differed and were positively correlated with growth temperature and growth rate. These findings demonstrate that thermal acclimation of NO3 reduction capacity is largely at the level of NR protein expression. The consequences of these features on NO3 utilization are discussed.