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CO2-concentrating mechanisms in three southern hemisphere strains of Emiliania huxleyi


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Rising global CO2 is changing the carbonate chemistry of seawater, which is expected to influence the way phytoplankton acquire inorganic carbon. All phytoplankton rely on ribulose-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase (RUBISCO) for assimilation of inorganic carbon in photosynthesis, but this enzyme is inefficient at present day CO2 levels. Many algae have developed a range of energy demanding mechanisms, referred to as carbon concentrating mechanisms (CCMs), which increase the efficiency of carbon acquisition. We investigated CCM activity in three southern hemisphere strains of the coccolithophorid Emiliania huxleyi W. W. Hay & H. P. Mohler. Both calcifying and non-calcifying strains showed strong CCM activity, with HCO3 as a preferred source of photosynthetic carbon in the non-calcifying strain, but a higher preference for CO2 in the calcifying strains. All three strains were characterized by the presence of pyrenoids, external carbonic anhydrase (CA) and high affinity for CO2 in photosynthesis, indicative of active CCMs. We postulate that under higher CO2 levels cocco-lithophorids will be able to down-regulate their CCMs, and re-direct some of the metabolic energy to processes such as calcification. Due to the expected rise in CO2 levels, photosynthesis in calcifying strains is expected to benefit most, due to their use of CO2 for carbon uptake. The non-calcifying strain, on the other hand, will experience only a 10% increase in HCO3, thus making it less responsive to changes in carbonate chemistry of water.