The evolution of autotrophy in relation to phosphorus requirement

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    The evolution of autotrophy is considered in relation to the availability of phosphorus (P), the ultimate elemental resource limiting biological productivity through Earth's history. Work on microbes and plants is emphasized, dealing in turn with the main uses for P in cells, namely nucleic acids, phospholipids, and water-soluble low molecular mass phosphate esters plus metabolically active inorganic orthophosphate. There is a greater minimum gene number and minimum DNA content in autotrophic than in osmochemoorganotrophic archaea and bacteria, as well as a lower rate of biomass increase per unit P (P-use efficiency) in autotrophs than in osmochemoorganotrophs, in eukaryotes as well as bacteria. This may be due to the diversion of rRNA from producing proteins common to all organisms to producing highly expressed proteins specific to autotrophs. The P requirement for phospholipids is decreased in oxygenic photolithotrophs, and some anoxygenic photolithotrophs, by substituting galactolipids and sulpholipids for phospholipids in the photosynthetic, and some other, membranes. The six different autotrophic inorganic carbon assimilation pathways have varying requirements for low molecular mass water-soluble phosphate esters. In oxygenic photolithotrophs, there is no clear evidence of a different P requirement for growth in the absence (diffusive CO2 entry) relative to the presence of CO2-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs). P limitation increases the expression of crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) in facultative CAM plants, decreases the extent of inorganic carbon accumulation in algae with CCMs, and (usually) their inorganic carbon affinity and the water-use efficiency of growth of terrestrial plants, and the light-use efficiency of photolithotrophs.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4023-4046
    Number of pages24
    JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
    Issue number13
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


    • anoxygenic photosynthesis
    • chemolithotrophs
    • CO2-concentrating mechanisms
    • oxygenic photosynthesis
    • Phospholipids
    • rRNA
    • Rubisco


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