Microalgal photosynthesis induces alkalization of aquatic environment as a result of H+ uptake independently from CO2 concentration – new perspectives for environmental applications

Highlights

  • Microalgae photosynthesis induces strongly H+ uptake reversing ocean acidification.
  • Water alkalization through algal H+ uptake is independent from CO2 concentration.
  • New management approaches for reversing ocean acidification using algal H+ uptake.
  • Algal H+ uptake depends on essential nutrients, cell density and light intensity.
  • Acidification of aquatic environment induces microalgal photosynthesis and growth.

Abstract

The photosynthetic process in microalgae and the extracellular proton environment interact with each other. The photosynthetic process in microalgae induces a pH increase in the aquatic environment as a result of cellular protons uptake rather than as an effect of CO2 consumption. The photosynthetic water photolysis and the reduction/oxidation cycle of the plastoquinone pool provide lumen with protons. Weak bases act as “permeant buffers” in lumen during the photosynthetic procedure, converting the ΔpH to Δψ. This is possibly the main reason for continuous light-driven proton uptake from the aquatic environment through cytosol and stroma, into the lumen. The proton uptake rate and, therefore, the microalgal growth is proportional to the light intensity, cell concentration, and extracellular proton concentration. The low pH in microalgae cultures, without limitation factors related to light and nutrients, strongly induces photosynthesis (and proton uptake) and, consequently, growth. In contrast, the mitochondrial respiratory process, in the absence of photosynthetic activity, does not substantially alter the culture pH. Only after intensification of the respiratory process, using exogenous glucose supply leads to significantly reduced pH values in the culture medium, almost exclusively through proton output. Enhanced dissolution of atmospheric CO2 in water causes the phenomenon of ocean acidification, which prevents the process of calcification, a significant process for numerous phytoplankton and zooplankton organisms, as well for corals. The proposed interaction between microalgal photosynthetic activity and proton concentration in the aquatic environment, independently from the CO2 concentration, paves the way for new innovative management strategies for reversing the ocean acidification.

Zerveas S., Sofia Mente M., Tsakiri D. & Kotzabasis K., 2021. Microalgal photosynthesis induces alkalization of aquatic environment as a result of H+ uptake independently from CO2 concentration – new perspectives for environmental applications. Journal of Environmental Management 289: 112546. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112546. Article (subscription required).

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OA-ICC HIGHLIGHTS

Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book