Carbon Acquisition by Microalgae

  • John Beardall
  • John A. Raven
Part of the Developments in Applied Phycology book series (DAPH, volume 6)


Autotrophic assimilation of inorganic C in cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae involves the use of CO2 by ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase (Rubisco) and the Photosynthetic Carbon Reduction Cycle. The kinetic characteristics of the Form IB and Form ID Rubiscos of a few eukaryotic microalgae allow photosynthesis using diffusive entry of CO2 to Rubisco from present-day CO2 levels in air, with concomitant Rubisco oxygenase activity and phosphoglycolate metabolism by (typically) the Photorespiratory Carbon Oxidation Cycle (PCOC). All cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates, and most other eukaryotic microalgae, have CO2 concentrating mechanisms (CCMs). These are generally biophysical CCMs involving active transport across (a) membrane(s) of one or more of HCO3, CO2 and H+. There is very limited evidence for a biochemical CCM based on (possibly) C3–C4 intermediate-like photosynthetic C metabolism. CCM expression and operation interact with the supply of light and other resources needed for growth. CCMs (with residual Rubisco oxygenase and PCOC activity) have a significant energy cost, as does the alternative of diffusive CO2 entry and consequent Rubisco oxygenase and PCOC activity. Some cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae can take up dissolved organic matter (osmochemoorganotrophy or combined with photosynthesis in osmomixotrophy) or, for some eukaryotic microalgae, phagochemoorganotrophy or, combined with photosynthesis, in phagomixotrophy. Regardless of whether the organic carbon needed for growth is obtained by photolithotrophy or (mixo)chemoorganotrophy, anaplerotic inorganic C assimilation is needed to supply C skeletons for synthesis of a range of cell components; this (as ‘dark fixation’) is the only inorganic C assimilation occurring in the dark.


Active transport Anaplerotic metabolism C3–C4 metabolism CO2 CO2 concentrating mechanisms Chemoorganotrophy H+ HCO3 Osmomixotrophy Phagomixotrophy Photorespiratory carbon oxidation cycle Photosynthetic carbon reduction cycle Ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase 



The University of Dundee is a registered Scottish charity, No. SC015096. John Beardall’s work on inorganic carbon acquisition has been supported by the Australian Research Council.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Plant BiologyUniversity of Dundee at the James Hutton InstituteInvergowrieUK
  3. 3.Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change ClusterUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia

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