Thierry Le Bihan and co-workers, University of Edinburgh, UK, have found that the unicellular alga Ostreococcus tauri — the smallest and simplest eukaryote — has developed coping mechanisms for when its main food source is in short supply.
The alga ingests nitrogen from its surroundings. When nitrogen levels were low, the team found that several metabolic mechanisms were up-regulated, including carbon storage pathways, glycolysis, phosphate transport, and the synthesis of inorganic polyphosphates. This allows O. tauri to reduce its nitrogen intake and absorb other nutrients, such as carbon and phosphorus.
This suggests an atypical adaptation mechanism for coping with a nutrient-limited environment, the discovery of which could help scientists develop crops that can survive when nutrients are scarce. It can also help to grow high-yield plants for use as biofuels.
- Shotgun proteomic analysis of the unicellular alga Ostreococcus tauri
T. Le Bihan, S. F. Martin, E. S. Chirnside, G. van Ooijen, M. E. Barrios-Lerena et al.,
J. Proteomics 2011.