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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47182. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047182. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

Induction of glycerol synthesis and release in cultured Symbiodinium.

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  • 1Unidad Académica de Sistemas Arrecifales Puerto Morelos, Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico.



Symbiotic dinoflagellates transfer a substantial amount of their photosynthetic products to their animal hosts. This amount has been estimated to represent up to 90% of the photosynthetically fixed carbon and can satisfy in some instances the full respiratory requirements of the host. Although in several cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbioses glycerol is the primary photosynthetic product translocated to the host, the mechanism for its production and release has not been demonstrated conclusively.


Using Symbiodinium cells in culture we were able to reproduce the synthesis and release of glycerol in vitro by employing an inductor for glycerol synthesis, osmotic up-shocks. Photosynthetic parameters and fluorescence analysis of photosystem II showed that the inductive conditions did not have a negative effect on photosynthetic performance, suggesting that the capacity for carbon fixation by the cells was not compromised. The demand for glycerol production required to attain osmotic balance increased the expression of ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate and of glycerol 3-phosphate dehydrogenase, possibly competing with the flux of fixed carbon necessary for protein synthesis. In longer exposures of cultured Symbiodinium cells to high osmolarity, the response was analogous to photoacclimation, reducing the excitation pressure over photosystem II, suggesting that Symbiodinium cells perceived the stress as an increase in light. The induced synthesis of glycerol resulted in a reduction of growth rates.


Our results favor a hypothetical mechanism of a signaling event involving a pressure sensor that may induce the flux of carbon (glycerol) from the symbiotic algae to the animal host, and strongly suggest that carbon limitation may be a key factor modulating the population of symbionts within the host.

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