Coral host cells acidify symbiotic algal microenvironment to promote photosynthesis

Symbiotic dinoflagellate algae residing inside coral tissues supply the host with the majority of their energy requirements through the translocation of photosynthetically fixed carbon. The algae, in turn, rely on the host for the supply of inorganic carbon. Carbon must be concentrated as CO2 in order for photosynthesis to proceed, and here we show that the coral host plays an active role in this process. The host-derived symbiosome membrane surrounding
the algae abundantly expresses vacuolar H+-ATPase (VHA), which acidifies the symbiosome space down to pH ∼4. Inhibition of VHA results in a significant decrease in average H+ activity in the symbiosome of up to 75% and a significant reduction in O2 production rate, a measure of photosynthetic activity. These results suggest that host VHA is part of a previously unidentified carbon concentrating mechanism for algal photosynthesis and provide mechanistic evidence that coral host cells can actively modulate the physiology of their symbionts.

Barott K. L., Venn A. A., Perez S. O., Tambutté S. & Tresguerres M., 2015. Coral host cells acidify symbiotic algal microenvironment to promote photosynthesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 112(2):607-612. Article (subscription required).

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