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Phytoplankton growth rates are limited by the supply of iron (Fe) in approximately one third of the open ocean, with major implications for carbon dioxide sequestration and carbon (C) biogeochemistry. To date, understanding how alteration of Fe supply changes phytoplankton physiology has focused on traditional metrics such as growth rate, elemental composition, and biophysical measurements such as photosynthetic competence (Fv/Fm). Researchers have subsequently employed transcriptomics to probe relationships between changes in Fe supply and phytoplankton physiology. Recently, studies have investigated longer-term (i.e. following acclimation) responses of phytoplankton to various Fe conditions. In the present study, the coastal diatom, Thalassiosira pseudonana, was acclimated (10 generations) to either low or high Fe conditions, i.e. Fe-limiting and Fe-replete. Quantitative proteomics and a newly developed proteomic profiling technique that identifies low abundance proteins were employed to examine the full complement of expressed proteins and consequently the metabolic pathways utilized by the diatom under the two Fe conditions. A total of 1850 proteins were confidently identified, nearly tripling previous identifications made from differential expression in diatoms. Given sufficient time to acclimate to Fe limitation, T. pseudonana up-regulates proteins involved in pathways associated with intracellular protein recycling, thereby decreasing dependence on extracellular nitrogen (N), C and Fe. The relative increase in the abundance of photorespiration and pentose phosphate pathway proteins reveal novel metabolic shifts, which create substrates that could support other well-established physiological responses, such as heavily silicified frustules observed for Fe-limited diatoms. Here, we discovered that proteins and hence pathways observed to be down-regulated in short-term Fe starvation studies are constitutively expressed when T. pseudonana is acclimated (i.e., nitrate and nitrite transporters, Photosystem II and Photosystem I complexes). Acclimation of the diatom to the desired Fe conditions and the comprehensive proteomic approach provides a more robust interpretation of this dynamic proteome than previous studies.

Original Publication Citation

Nunn, B.L., Faux, J.F., Hippmann, A.A., Maldonado, M.T., Harvey, H.R., Goodlett, D.R., . . . Strzepek, R.F. (2013). Diatom proteomics reveals unique acclimation strategies to mitigate Fe limitation. PLoS ONE, 8(10), 75653. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075653