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ISME J. 2014 Jul;8(7):1418-27. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.9. Epub 2014 Feb 13.

Direct exchange of vitamin B12 is demonstrated by modelling the growth dynamics of algal-bacterial cocultures.

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Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


The growth dynamics of populations of interacting species in the aquatic environment is of great importance, both for understanding natural ecosystems and in efforts to cultivate these organisms for industrial purposes. Here we consider a simple two-species system wherein the bacterium Mesorhizobium loti supplies vitamin B12 (cobalamin) to the freshwater green alga Lobomonas rostrata, which requires this organic micronutrient for growth. In return, the bacterium receives photosynthate from the alga. Mathematical models are developed that describe minimally the interdependence between the two organisms, and that fit the experimental observations of the consortium. These models enable us to distinguish between different mechanisms of nutrient exchange between the organisms, and provide strong evidence that, rather than undergoing simple lysis and release of nutrients into the medium, M. loti regulates the levels of cobalamin it produces, resulting in a true mutualism with L. rostrata. Over half of all microalgae are dependent on an exogenous source of cobalamin for growth, and this vitamin is synthesised only by bacteria; it is very likely that similar symbiotic interactions underpin algal productivity more generally.

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