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ISME J. 2011 Mar;5(3):436-45. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2010.145. Epub 2010 Sep 9.

Diatom-associated bacteria are required for aggregation of Thalassiosira weissflogii.

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Jacobs University Bremen, School of Engineering and Science, Bremen, Germany.


Aggregation of algae, mainly diatoms, is an important process in marine systems leading to the settling of particulate organic carbon predominantly in the form of marine snow. Exudation products of phytoplankton form transparent exopolymer particles (TEP), which acts as the glue for particle aggregation. Heterotrophic bacteria interacting with phytoplankton may influence TEP formation and phytoplankton aggregation. This bacterial impact has not been explored in detail. We hypothesized that bacteria attaching to Thalassiosira weissflogii might interact in a yet-to-be determined manner, which could impact TEP formation and aggregate abundance. The role of individual T. weissflogii-attaching and free-living new bacterial isolates for TEP production and diatom aggregation was investigated in vitro. T. weissflogii did not aggregate in axenic culture, and striking differences in aggregation dynamics and TEP abundance were observed when diatom cultures were inoculated with either diatom-attaching or free-living bacteria. The data indicated that free-living bacteria might not influence aggregation whereas bacteria attaching to diatom cells may increase aggregate formation. Interestingly, photosynthetically inactivated T. weissflogii cells did not aggregate regardless of the presence of bacteria. Comparison of aggregate formation, TEP production, aggregate sinking velocity and solid hydrated density revealed remarkable differences. Both, photosynthetically active T. weissflogii and specific diatom-attaching bacteria were required for aggregation. It was concluded that interactions between heterotrophic bacteria and diatoms increased aggregate formation and particle sinking and thus may enhance the efficiency of the biological pump.

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