Identification of senescence and death in Emiliania huxleyi and Thalassiosira pseudonana: Cell staining, chlorophyll alterations, and dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) metabolism

Daniel J. Franklin, Ruth L. Airs, Michelle Fernandes, Thomas G. Bell, Roy J. Bongaerts, John A. Berges and Gill Malin

Limnol. Oceanogr., 57(1), 2012, 305-317 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2012.57.1.0305

ABSTRACT: We measured membrane permeability, hydrolytic enzyme, and caspase-like activities using fluorescent cell stains to document changes caused by nutrient exhaustion in the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi and the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana, during batch-culture nutrient limitation. We related these changes to cell death, pigment alteration, and concentrations of dimethylsulfide (DMS) and dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) to assess the transformation of these compounds as cell physiological condition changes. E. huxleyi persisted for 1 month in stationary phase; in contrast, T. pseudonana cells rapidly declined within 10 d of nutrient depletion. T. pseudonana progressively lost membrane integrity and the ability to metabolize 5-chloromethylfluorescein diacetate (CMFDA; hydrolytic activity), whereas E. huxleyi developed two distinct CMFDA populations and retained membrane integrity (SYTOX Green). Caspase-like activity appeared higher in E. huxleyi than in T. pseudonana during the post-growth phase, despite a lack of apparent mortality and cell lysis. Photosynthetic pigment degradation and transformation occurred in both species after growth; chlorophyll a (Chl a) degradation was characterized by an increase in the ratio of methoxy Chl a : Chl a in T. pseudonana but not in E. huxleyi, and the increase in this ratio preceded loss of membrane integrity. Total DMSP declined in T. pseudonana during cell death and DMS increased. In contrast, and in the absence of cell death, total DMSP and DMS increased in E. huxleyi. Our data show a novel chlorophyll alteration product associated with T. pseudonana death, suggesting a promising approach to discriminate nonviable cells in nature.

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