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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2001 Sep;67(9):3824-31.

Induction of phase variation events in the life cycle of the marine coccolithophorid Emiliania huxleyi.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, California State University San Marcos, San Marcos, California 92096-0001, USA.


Emiliania huxleyi is a unicellular marine alga that is considered to be the world's major producer of calcite. The life cycle of this alga is complex and is distinguished by its ability to synthesize exquisitely sculptured calcium carbonate cell coverings known as coccoliths. These structures have been targeted by materials scientists for applications relating to the chemistry of biomedical materials, robust membranes for high-temperature separation technology, lightweight ceramics, and semiconductor design. To date, however, the molecular and biochemical events controlling coccolith production have not been determined. In addition, little is known about the life cycle of E. huxleyi and the environmental and physiological signals triggering phase switching between the diploid and haploid life cycle stages. We have developed laboratory methods for inducing phase variation between the haploid (S-cell) and diploid (C-cell) life cycle stages of E. huxleyi. Plating E. huxleyi C cells on solid media was shown to induce phase switching from the C-cell to the S-cell life cycle stage, the latter of which has been maintained for over 2 years under these conditions. Pure cultures of S cells were obtained for the first time. Laboratory conditions for inducing phase switching from the haploid stage to the diploid stage were also established. Regeneration of the C-cell stage from pure cultures of S cells followed a predictable pattern involving formation of large aggregations of S cells and the subsequent production of cultures consisting predominantly of diploid C cells. These results demonstrate the ability to manipulate the life cycle of E. huxleyi under controlled laboratory conditions, providing us with powerful tools for the development of genetic techniques for analysis of coccolithogenesis and for investigating the complex life cycle of this important marine alga.

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