Cell size influences inorganic carbon acquisition in artificially selected phytoplankton

Martino E. Malerba (Lead / Corresponding author), Dustin J. Marshall, Maria M. Palacios, John A. Raven, John Beardall

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)
    51 Downloads (Pure)


    · Cell size influences the rate at which phytoplankton assimilate dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), but it is unclear whether volume-specific carbon uptake should be greater in smaller or larger cells. On the one hand, Fick’s Law predicts smaller cells to have a superior diffusive CO 2 supply. On the other, larger cells may have greater scope to invest metabolic energy to upregulate active transport per unit area through CO 2-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs).

    · Previous studies have focused on among-species comparisons, which complicates disentangling the role of cell size from other covarying traits. In this study, we investigated the DIC assimilation of the green alga Dunaliella tertiolecta after using artificial selection to evolve a 9.3-fold difference in cell volume. We compared CO 2 affinity, external carbonic anhydrase (CA ext), isotopic signatures (δ 13C) and growth among size-selected lineages.

    · Evolving cells to larger sizes led to an upregulation of CCMs that improved the DIC uptake of this species, with higher CO 2 affinity, higher CA ext and higher δ 13C. Larger cells also achieved faster growth and higher maximum biovolume densities.

    · We showed that evolutionary shifts in cell size can alter the efficiency of DIC uptake systems to influence the fitness of a phytoplankton species.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2647-2659
    Number of pages13
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number5
    Early online date6 Nov 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


    • CO2-concentrating mechanisms
    • carbonic anhydrase
    • cell size
    • external carbonic anhydrase
    • green algae
    • inorganic carbon
    • photosynthetic O evolution

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physiology
    • Plant Science


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