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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

High single-cell diversity in carbon and nitrogen assimilations by a chain-forming diatom across a century

Olofsson, Malin; Kourtchenko, Olga; Zetsche, Eva-Maria; Marchant, Hannah K.; Whitehouse, Martin J.; Godhe, Anna; Ploug, Helle


Almost a century ago Redfield discovered a relatively constant ratio between carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in particulate organic matter and nitrogen and phosphorus of dissolved nutrients in seawater. Since then, the riverine export of nitrogen to the ocean has increased 20 fold. High abundance of resting stages in sediment layers dated more than a century back indicate that the common planktonic diatom Skeletonema marinoi has endured this eutrophication. We germinated unique genotypes from resting stages originating from isotope-dated sediment layers (15 and 80 years old) in a eutrophied fjord. Using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) combined with stable isotopic tracers, we show that the cell-specific carbon and nitrogen assimilation rates vary by an order of magnitude on a single-cell level but are significantly correlated during the exponential growth phase, resulting in constant assimilation quota in cells with identical genotypes. The assimilation quota varies largely between different clones independent of age. We hypothesize that the success of S. marinoi in coastal waters may be explained by its high diversity of nutrient demand not only at a clone-specific level but also at the single-cell level, whereby the population can sustain and adapt to dynamic nutrient conditions in the environment.

Published in

Environmental Microbiology
2019, Volume: 21, number: 1, pages: 142-151
Publisher: WILEY

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