Efficiency of the CO2-concentrating mechanism of diatoms

Diatoms are responsible for a large fraction of CO2 export to deep seawater, a process responsible for low modern-day CO2 concentrations in surface seawater and the atmosphere. Like other photosynthetic organisms, diatoms have adapted to these low ambient concentrations by operating a CO2 concentrating mechanism (CCM) to elevate the concentration of CO2 at the site of fixation. We used mass spectrometric measurements of passive and active cellular carbon fluxes and model simulations of these fluxes to better understand the stoichiometric and energetic efficiency and the physiological architecture of the diatom CCM. The membranes of diatoms are highly permeable to CO2, resulting in a large diffusive exchange of CO2 between the cell and external milieu. An active transport of carbon from the cytoplasm into the chloroplast is the main driver of the diatom CCM. Only one-third of this carbon flux is fixed photosynthetically, and the rest is lost by CO2 diffusion back to the cytoplasm. Both the passive influx of CO2 from the external medium and the recycling of the CO2 leaking out of the chloroplast are achieved by the activity of a carbonic anhydrase enzyme combined with the maintenance of a low concentration of HCO3 in the cytoplasm. To achieve the CO2 concentration necessary to saturate carbon fixation, the CO2 is most likely concentrated within the pyrenoid, an organelle within the chloroplast where the CO2-fixating enzyme is located.

Hopkinson B. M., Dupont C. L., Allen A. E., & Morel F. M. M., in press. Efficiency of the CO2-concentrating mechanism of diatoms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America doi:10.1073/pnas.1018062108. Article (subscription required).

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