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Biophys J. 1997 Sep;73(3):1562-72.

How Chlamydomonas keeps track of the light once it has reached the right phototactic orientation.

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Abteilung Physikalische Biologie der Ludwig Maximilians Universit√§t, M√ľnchen, Germany.


By using a real-time assay that allows measurement of the phototactic orientation of the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas with millisecond time resolution, it can be shown that single photons not only induce transient direction changes but that fluence rates as low as 1 photon cell(-1) s(-1) can already lead to a persistent orientation. Orientation is a binary variable, i.e., in a partially oriented population some organisms are fully oriented while the rest are still at random. Action spectra reveal that the response to a pulsed stimulus follows the Dartnall-nomogram for a rhodopsin while the response to a persistent stimulus falls off more rapidly toward the red end of the spectrum. Thus light of 540 nm, for which chlamy-rhodopsin is equally sensitive as for 440-nm light, induces no measurable persistent orientation while 440-nm light does. A model is presented which explains not only this behavior, but also how Chlamydomonas can track the light direction and switches between a positive and negative phototaxis. According to the model the ability to detect the direction of light, to make the right turn and to stay oriented, is a direct consequence of the helical path of the organism, the orientation of its eyespot relative to the helix-axis, and the special shielding properties of eyespot and cell body. The model places particular emphasis on the fact that prolonged swimming into the correct direction not only requires making a correct turn initially, but also avoiding further turns once the right direction has been reached.

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