Photolysis of iron-siderophore chelates promotes bacterial-algal mutualism

Shady A. Amin, David H. Green, Mark C. Hart, Frithjof C. Kuepper, William G. Sunda, Carl J. Carrano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

404 Citations (Scopus)


Marine microalgae support world fisheries production and influence climate through various mechanisms. They are also responsible for harmful blooms that adversely impact coastal ecosystems and economies. Optimal growth and survival of many bloom-forming microalgae, including climatically important dinoflagellates and coccolithophores, requires the close association of specific bacterial species, but the reasons for these associations are unknown. Here, we report that several clades of Marinobacter ubiquitously found in close association with dinoflagellates and coccolithophores produce an unusual lower-affinity dicitrate siderophore, vibrioferrin (VF). Fe-VF chelates undergo photolysis at rates that are 10-20 times higher than siderophores produced by free-living marine bacteria, and unlike the latter, the VF photoproduct has no measurable affinity for iron. While both an algal-associated bacterium and a representative dinoflagellate partner, Scrippsiella trochoidea, used iron from Fe-VF chelates in the dark, in situ photolysis of the chelates in the presence of attenuated sunlight increased bacterial iron uptake by 70% and algal uptake by >20-fold. These results suggest that the bacteria promote algal assimilation of iron by facilitating photochemical redox cycling of this critical nutrient. Also, binary culture experiments and genomic evidence suggest that the algal cells release organic molecules that are used by the bacteria for growth. Such mutualistic sharing of iron and fixed carbon has important implications toward our understanding of the close beneficial interactions between marine bacteria and phytoplankton, and the effect of these interactions on algal blooms and climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17071-17076
Number of pages6
Issue number40
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2009


  • algal blooms
  • iron acquisition
  • vibrioferrin
  • marinobacter
  • photochemistry


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