Marine phytoplankton downregulate core photosynthesis and carbon storage genes upon rapid mixed layer shallowing

Ben P. Diaz, Ehud Zelzion, Kimberly Halsey, Peter Gaube, Michael Behrenfeld, Kay D. Bidle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Marine phytoplankton are a diverse group of photoautotrophic organisms and key mediators in the global carbon cycle. Phytoplankton physiology and biomass accumulation are closely tied to mixed layer depth, but the intracellular metabolic pathways activated in response to changes in mixed layer depth remain less explored. Here, metatranscriptomics was used to characterize the phytoplankton community response to a mixed layer shallowing (from 233 to 5 m) over the course of two days during the late spring in the Northwest Atlantic. Most phytoplankton genera downregulated core photosynthesis, carbon storage, and carbon fixation genes as the system transitioned from a deep to a shallow mixed layer and shifted towards catabolism of stored carbon supportive of rapid cell growth. In contrast, phytoplankton genera exhibited divergent transcriptional patterns for photosystem light harvesting complex genes during this transition. Active virus infection, taken as the ratio of virus to host transcripts, increased in the Bacillariophyta (diatom) phylum and decreased in the Chlorophyta (green algae) phylum upon mixed layer shallowing. A conceptual model is proposed to provide ecophysiological context for our findings, in which integrated light limitation and lower division rates during transient deep mixing are hypothesized to disrupt resource-driven, oscillating transcript levels related to photosynthesis, carbon fixation, and carbon storage. Our findings highlight shared and unique transcriptional response strategies within phytoplankton communities acclimating to the dynamic light environment associated with transient deep mixing and shallowing events during the annual North Atlantic bloom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1074-1088
Number of pages15
JournalISME Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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