Unicellular phytoplanktonic algae (coccolithophores) are among the most prolific producers of calcium carbonate on the planet, with a production of ∼1026 coccoliths per year. During their lith formation, coccolithophores mainly employ coccolith-associated polysaccharides (CAPs) for the regulation of crystal nucleation and growth. These macromolecules interact with the intracellular calcifying compartment (coccolith vesicle) through the charged carboxyl groups of their uronic acid residues. Here we report the isolation of CAPs from modern day coccolithophores and their prehistoric predecessors and we demonstrate that their uronic acid content (UAC) offers a species-specific signature. We also show that there is a correlation between the UAC of CAPs and the internal saturation state of the coccolith vesicle that, for most geologically abundant species, is inextricably linked to carbon availability. These findings suggest that the UAC of CAPs reports on the adaptation of coccolithogenesis to environmental changes and can be used for the estimation of past CO2 concentrations.
Lee R. B. Y., Mavridou D. A. I., Papadakos G., McClelland H. L. O. & Rickaby R. E. M., 2016. The uronic acid content of coccolith-associated polysaccharides provides insight into coccolithogenesis and past climate. Nature Communications 7:13144. Article.