Conditional senescence in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (Chlorophyceae)


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The mechanisms of microalgal senescence may play an important role in nutrient recycling and enhanced survival. However, the aging physiology of microalgae is an understudied phenomenon. To investigate the patterns of conditional senescence in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii P. A. Dangeard, we used a cell wall-less strain, transformed with a reporter gene to infer changes in photosynthetic gene expression. We examined plastid ultrastructure, photosynthetic function, and photoprotective mechanisms during aging in batch cultures. LHCII transcription levels decreased before the population entered stationary phase, and the characteristic transcriptional light-shift response was lost. A decline in photosynthetic proteins with a concomitant increase in the photoprotective protein, LHCSR, was observed over time. However, nonphotochemical quenching remained stable during growth and stationary phase, and then declined as alternative quenching mechanisms were up-regulated. Photosynthetic efficiency declined, while Fv/Fm remained stable until the death phases. As the culture progressed through stationary phase, disorganization of the chloroplast was observed along with an increase in cytoplasmic oil bodies. We also observed a partial recovery of function and proteins during the final death phase, and attribute this to the release of nutrients into the medium from cell lysis and/or active secretion while cells were senescing. Allowing open gas exchange resulted in high levels of sustained starch production and maintained maximum cell density, prolonging the stationary phase.