Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 107, Issue 1, pp 117–132 | Cite as

The acquisition of phototrophy: adaptive strategies of hosting endosymbionts and organelles

  • Matthew D. JohnsonEmail author


Many non-photosynthetic species of protists and metazoans are capable of hosting viable algal endosymbionts or their organelles through adaptations of phagocytic pathways. A form of mixotrophy combining phototrophy and heterotrophy, acquired phototrophy (AcPh) encompasses a suite of endosymbiotic and organelle retention interactions, that range from facultative to obligate. AcPh is a common phenomenon in aquatic ecosystems, with endosymbiotic associations generally more prevalent in nutrient poor environments, and organelle retention typically associated with more productive ones. All AcPhs benefit from enhanced growth due to access to photosynthetic products; however, the degree of metabolic integration and dependency in the host varies widely. AcPh is found in at least four of the major eukaryotic supergroups, and is the driving force in the evolution of secondary and tertiary plastid acquisitions. Mutualistic resource partitioning characterizes most algal endosymbiotic interactions, while organelle retention is a form of predation, characterized by nutrient flow (i.e., growth) in one direction. AcPh involves adaptations to recognize specific prey or endosymbionts and to house organelles or endosymbionts within the endomembrane system but free from digestion. In many cases, hosts depend upon AcPh for the production of essential nutrients, many of which remain obscure. The practice of AcPh has led to multiple independent secondary and tertiary plastid acquisition events among several eukaryote lineages, giving rise to the diverse array of algae found in modern aquatic ecosystems. This article highlights those AcPhs that are model research organisms for both metazoans and protists. Much of the basic biology of AcPhs remains enigmatic, particularly (1) which essential nutrients or factors make certain forms of AcPh obligatory, (2) how hosts regulate and manipulate endosymbionts or sequestered organelles, and (3) what genomic imprint, if any, AcPh leaves on non-photosynthetic host species.


Acquired phototrophy Mixotrophy Kleptoplastidy Karyoklepty Endosymbiosis 



The author thanks Diane K. Stoecker, Fabrice Not, and Colomban de Vargas for illuminating discussions on AcPh, and Rebecca Gast, Dave Caron, Daniel Sher, George McManus, and Mary Rumpho for their generous image donations. The author would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Preparation of the article was supported by NSF grant OCE-0851269.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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