Expression and Activity of the Enzyme Nitrate Reductase in the Marine Diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana: Light and Nutrient Effects




Lagunas, Marcos G.

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The main goal of this study was to assess the impact that nitrate and light have on the relationship between the gene expression of the enzyme nitrate reductase and the incorporation of nitrate in the cosmopolitan diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana, both in laboratory experiments and in natural environments. Continuous cultures were grown at different nitrate (NO3-) concentrations (i.e., 60, 120, and 400 µM) to evaluate their effects on the expression levels of different genes of the nitrogen metabolic pathway (i.e., nitrate and ammonium transporters, nitrate and nitrite reductases, glutamine synthetases II and III). Semi-continuous cultures were grown under different irradiances (i.e., 50, 110, 200, and 320 µmol photon cm-2 s-1) to assess the influence of light intensity (irradiance) on the relationship between the expression of those genes, uptake, and assimilation of nitrate. The expression of all of the genes that were tested decreased significantly (p < 0.05) at the highest concentration of NO3- (i.e., 400 µM), with nitrate transporters showing the most pronounced change from 27.97 to 0.59 fold change cell-1 x 10-6, at 60 and 400 µM NO3- concentrations respectively. Ammonium transporters were detected at all concentrations of NO3-, suggesting that cells are always ready to metabolize ammonium. Growth was limited (µ = 0.99 d-1) by the low irradiance treatment, was maximum (µ = 2.04 d-1) at 200 µmol photon cm-2 s-1 and was inhibited (µ = 1.54 d-1) at the highest irradiance. These trends were reflected in gene expression and uptake rates, with minimum values at the lowest and highest irradiance levels. However, results from the enzymatic assay did not show any significant differences between treatments (p > 0.05). The trends observed in the enzymatic rates could be explained by the gene expression of NO3- reductase and the uptake and growth rates in a multiple regression analysis (R2 = 0.66, p < 0.05). The results of this study show that uptake is independent of gene expression, probably because of a decoupling between transcription and protein synthesis. Not all of the newly synthesized transcripts will inevitably be translated into proteins. And even if they were, there could be post-translational mechanisms preventing the enzymes to become active. This indicates that uptake can be independent of the expression. It was attempted to measure the expression of T. pseudonana genes involved in the metabolism of NO3- in natural diatom assemblages. The use of gene expression as a proxy for metabolic processes carried out by a phytoplankton assemblage in the field is limited and depends on environmental factors, since the current methods of assessing expression rely on genomic sequences that are particularly variable in phytoplankton. The assessment of gene expression provides a useful insight into physiological studies of phytoplankton, and it should be complemented with other measurements, such as the biomass and taxonomic composition of the assemblage for a more complete picture of marine ecosystem nutrient dynamics.



diatoms, nitrate reductase, gene expression, Thalassiosira pseudonana, uptake rates, enzyme activity, light, nutrient