skip to main content


Title: Morphological, physiological, and transcriptional responses of the freshwater diatom Fragilaria crotonensis to elevated pH conditions
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) caused by the toxin-producing cyanobacteria Microcystis spp., can increase water column pH. While the effect(s) of these basified conditions on the bloom formers are a high research priority, how these pH shifts affect other biota remains understudied. Recently, it was shown these high pH levels decrease growth and Si deposition rates in the freshwater diatom Fragilaria crotonensis and natural Lake Erie (Canada-US) diatom populations. However, the physiological mechanisms and transcriptional responses of diatoms associated with these observations remain to be documented. Here, we examined F. crotonensis with a set of morphological, physiological, and transcriptomic tools to identify cellular responses to high pH. We suggest 2 potential mechanisms that may contribute to morphological and physiological pH effects observed in F. crotonensis . Moreover, we identified a significant upregulation of mobile genetic elements in the F. crotonensis genome which appear to be an extreme transcriptional response to this abiotic stress to enhance cellular evolution rates–a process we have termed “ genomic roulette. ” We discuss the ecological and biogeochemical effects high pH conditions impose on fresh waters and suggest a means by which freshwater diatoms such as F. crotonensis may evade high pH stress to survive in a “basified” future.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1840715
NSF-PAR ID:
10430305
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Microbiology
Volume:
13
ISSN:
1664-302X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Huber, Julie A. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Wind-driven upwelling followed by relaxation results in cycles of cold nutrient-rich water fueling intense phytoplankton blooms followed by nutrient depletion, bloom decline, and sinking of cells. Surviving cells at depth can then be vertically transported back to the surface with upwelled waters to seed another bloom. As a result of these cycles, phytoplankton communities in upwelling regions are transported through a wide range of light and nutrient conditions. Diatoms appear to be well suited for these cycles, but their responses to them remain understudied. To investigate the bases for diatoms’ ecological success in upwelling environments, we employed laboratory simulations of a complete upwelling cycle with a common diatom, Chaetoceros decipiens , and coccolithophore, Emiliania huxleyi . We show that while both organisms exhibited physiological and transcriptomic plasticity, the diatom displayed a distinct response enabling it to rapidly shift-up growth rates and nitrate assimilation when returned to light and available nutrients following dark nutrient-deplete conditions. As observed in natural diatom communities, C. decipiens highly expresses before upwelling, or frontloads, key transcriptional and nitrate assimilation genes, coordinating its rapid response to upwelling conditions. Low-iron simulations showed that C. decipiens is capable of maintaining this response when iron is limiting to growth, whereas E. huxleyi is not. Differential expression between iron treatments further revealed specific genes used by each organism under low iron availability. Overall, these results highlight the responses of two dominant phytoplankton groups to upwelling cycles, providing insight into the mechanisms fueling diatom blooms during upwelling events. IMPORTANCE Coastal upwelling regions are among the most biologically productive ecosystems. During upwelling events, nutrient-rich water is delivered from depth resulting in intense phytoplankton blooms typically dominated by diatoms. Along with nutrients, phytoplankton may also be transported from depth to seed these blooms then return to depth as upwelling subsides creating a cycle with varied conditions. To investigate diatoms’ success in upwelling regions, we compare the responses of a common diatom and coccolithophore throughout simulated upwelling cycles under iron-replete and iron-limiting conditions. The diatom exhibited a distinct rapid response to upwelling irrespective of iron status, whereas the coccolithophore’s response was either delayed or suppressed depending on iron availability. Concurrently, the diatom highly expresses, or frontloads, nitrate assimilation genes prior to upwelling, potentially enabling this rapid response. These results provide insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying diatom blooms and ecological success in upwelling regions. 
    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (CyanoHABs) commonly increase water column pH to alkaline levels ≥9.2, and to as high as 11. This elevated pH has been suggested to confer a competitive advantage to cyanobacteria such as Microcystis aeruginosa . Yet, there is limited information regarding the restrictive effects bloom-induced pH levels may impose on this cyanobacterium’s competitors. Due to the pH-dependency of biosilicification processes, diatoms (which seasonally both precede and proceed Microcystis blooms in many fresh waters) may be unable to synthesize frustules at these pH levels. We assessed the effects of pH on the ecologically relevant diatom Fragilaria crotonensis in vitro , and on a Lake Erie diatom community in situ . In vitro assays revealed F. crotonensis monocultures exhibited lower growth rates and abundances when cultivated at a starting pH of 9.2 in comparison to pH 7.7. The suppressed growth trends in F. crotonensis were exacerbated when co-cultured with M. aeruginosa at pH conditions and cell densities that simulated a cyanobacteria bloom. Estimates demonstrated a significant decrease in silica (Si) deposition at alkaline pH in both in vitro F. crotonensis cultures and in situ Lake Erie diatom assemblages, after as little as 48 h of alkaline pH-exposure. These observations indicate elevated pH negatively affected growth rate and diatom silica deposition; in total providing a competitive disadvantage for diatoms. Our observations demonstrate pH likely plays a significant role in bloom succession, creating a potential to prolong summer Microcystis blooms and constrain diatom fall resurgence. 
    more » « less
  3. ABSTRACT Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) are critical for dynamic transcriptional responses to environmental stress. However, the mechanisms by which GRN regulation adjusts physiology to enable stress survival remain unclear. Here we investigate the functions of transcription factors (TFs) within the global GRN of the stress-tolerant archaeal microorganism Halobacterium salinarum . We measured growth phenotypes of a panel of TF deletion mutants in high temporal resolution under heat shock, oxidative stress, and low-salinity conditions. To quantitate the noncanonical functional forms of the growth trajectories observed for these mutants, we developed a novel modeling framework based on Gaussian process regression and functional analysis of variance (FANOVA). We employ unique statistical tests to determine the significance of differential growth relative to the growth of the control strain. This analysis recapitulated known TF functions, revealed novel functions, and identified surprising secondary functions for characterized TFs. Strikingly, we observed that the majority of the TFs studied were required for growth under multiple stress conditions, pinpointing regulatory connections between the conditions tested. Correlations between quantitative phenotype trajectories of mutants are predictive of TF-TF connections within the GRN. These phenotypes are strongly concordant with predictions from statistical GRN models inferred from gene expression data alone. With genome-wide and targeted data sets, we provide detailed functional validation of novel TFs required for extreme oxidative stress and heat shock survival. Together, results presented in this study suggest that many TFs function under multiple conditions, thereby revealing high interconnectivity within the GRN and identifying the specific TFs required for communication between networks responding to disparate stressors. IMPORTANCE To ensure survival in the face of stress, microorganisms employ inducible damage repair pathways regulated by extensive and complex gene networks. Many archaea, microorganisms of the third domain of life, persist under extremes of temperature, salinity, and pH and under other conditions. In order to understand the cause-effect relationships between the dynamic function of the stress network and ultimate physiological consequences, this study characterized the physiological role of nearly one-third of all regulatory proteins known as transcription factors (TFs) in an archaeal organism. Using a unique quantitative phenotyping approach, we discovered functions for many novel TFs and revealed important secondary functions for known TFs. Surprisingly, many TFs are required for resisting multiple stressors, suggesting cross-regulation of stress responses. Through extensive validation experiments, we map the physiological roles of these novel TFs in stress response back to their position in the regulatory network wiring. This study advances understanding of the mechanisms underlying how microorganisms resist extreme stress. Given the generality of the methods employed, we expect that this study will enable future studies on how regulatory networks adjust cellular physiology in a diversity of organisms. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Despite the obstacles facing marine colonists, most lineages of aquatic organisms have colonized and diversified in freshwaters repeatedly. These transitions can trigger rapid morphological or physiological change and, on longer timescales, lead to increased rates of speciation and extinction. Diatoms are a lineage of ancestrally marine microalgae that have diversified throughout freshwater habitats worldwide. We generated a phylogenomic data set of genomes and transcriptomes for 59 diatom taxa to resolve freshwater transitions in one lineage, the Thalassiosirales. Although most parts of the species tree were consistently resolved with strong support, we had difficulties resolving a Paleocene radiation, which affected the placement of one freshwater lineage. This and other parts of the tree were characterized by high levels of gene tree discordance caused by incomplete lineage sorting and low phylogenetic signal. Despite differences in species trees inferred from concatenation versus summary methods and codons versus amino acids, traditional methods of ancestral state reconstruction supported six transitions into freshwaters, two of which led to subsequent species diversification. Evidence from gene trees, protein alignments, and diatom life history together suggest that habitat transitions were largely the product of homoplasy rather than hemiplasy, a condition where transitions occur on branches in gene trees not shared with the species tree. Nevertheless, we identified a set of putatively hemiplasious genes, many of which have been associated with shifts to low salinity, indicating that hemiplasy played a small but potentially important role in freshwater adaptation. Accounting for differences in evolutionary outcomes, in which some taxa became locked into freshwaters while others were able to return to the ocean or become salinity generalists, might help further distinguish different sources of adaptive mutation in freshwater diatoms.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Despite generally low primary productivity and diatom abundances in oligotrophic subtropical gyres, the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre (NASG) exhibits significant diatom-driven carbon export on an annual basis. Subsurface pulses of nutrients likely fuel brief episodes of diatom growth, but the exact mechanisms utilized by diatoms in response to these nutrient injections remain understudied within near-natural settings. Here we simulated delivery of subsurface nutrients and compare the response among eukaryotic phytoplankton using a combination of physiological techniques and metatranscriptomics. We show that eukaryotic phytoplankton groups exhibit differing levels of transcriptional responsiveness and expression of orthologous genes in response to release from nutrient limitation. In particular, strategies for use of newly delivered nutrients are distinct among phytoplankton groups. Diatoms channel new nitrate to growth-related strategies while physiological measurements and gene expression patterns of other groups suggest alternative strategies. The gene expression patterns displayed here provide insights into the cellular mechanisms that underlie diatom subsistence during chronic nitrogen-depleted conditions and growth upon nutrient delivery that can enhance carbon export from the surface ocean.

     
    more » « less