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Physiological and structural effects of phosphorus starvation on the unicellular green alga Scenedesmus


J.-E. Tillberg (corresponding author)


The effects of phosphorus starvation on morphology and intracellular structure and on reactions related to the energy metabolism of the unicellular green alga Scenedesmus obtusiusculus (Chod.) were studied over a period of 96 h by employing transmission electron microscopy and various methods for measurement of physiological reactions. Increase in cell size and shape and in cell wall thickness are dominating features of phosphorus starvation. There is also an increase in number and size of starch granules and lipid globules and the internal structure of the cells appears successively disorganized. Shortage of phosphorus in the medium initially induces an increase of the adenylate pool whereas the energy charge value remains the same as for the controls. The photosynthetic and respiratory activities are high during incipient phosphorus starvation. After 24 h, as shortage of phosphorus becomes critical, the internal phosphorus reaches a low steady-state value, and this is also true for the adenylate energy charge. The total content of adenylates, however, peaks after 24 h of starvation and then decreases with increasing length of phosphorus starvation. Light-induced oxygen evolution appears not to be as much inhibited by a low phosphorus content in the cells as by the concomitant starch accumulation. The data indicate that the strategy for survival of the cells in a phosphorus-poor environment includes morphological and physiological changes that facilitate the transfer and adaption of the cells to environments with a more favourable supply of phosphorus, such as the often oxygen-poor but phosphorus-rich bottom zones.