MEPS 160:13-25 (1997)  -  doi:10.3354/meps160013

Photoinduction of UV-absorbing compounds in Antarctic diatoms and Phaeocystis antarctica

Lieselotte Riegger, Dale Robinson*

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Am Handelshafen 12, D-27570, Bremerhaven, Germany
*Present address and address for correspondence: Universities Space Research Association, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 971, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA. E-mail:

The presence of UV-absorbing compounds, their in vivo absorption and photoinducibility were investigated in the colonial form of the prymnesiophyte Phaeocystis antarctica and 11 species of Antarctic diatoms. High in vivo phytoplankton absorption peaks centered at 315-320 nm wavelengths indicated the presence of UV-absorbing compounds in all cultures of P. antarctica examined. UV-absorbing compounds, detected as in vivo absorption peaks at slightly longer wavelengths (330-333 nm), were present in most diatom species, but were absent or present in minute amounts in smaller species. UV-absorbing compounds were identified in the diatoms as the mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) porphyra-334, mycosporine-glycine, and shinorine but could not be positively identified in P. antarctica. Accumulation of MAAs was induced by light in the blue/UV portion of the spectrum (305-460 nm). For diatoms, induction was most effective at wavelengths between 370 and 460 nm with very little response observed at ultraviolet-B (UVB, 280-320 nm) wavelengths. In contrast, induction was maximal at 340 nm and significant at wavelengths down to 305 nm in colonies of P. antarctica. Induction required continuous illumination and exhibited an initial lag phase (10 to 24 h in length), an exponential phase (60 to 120 h in length), and a steady-state phase. The cellular content of MAAs was stable in viable cells kept for over 2 mo in prolonged darkness and became diluted through successive cell divisions in cells grown in non-inducing illumination (red and yellow light). The potential sunscreening effect (S) of MAAs, calculated as the fractional reduction of UV exposure to a centrally-located cellular target, ranged from 0.03 to 0.50 for diatom cells and from 0.65 and 0.72 for P. antarctica colonies. S exhibited an increasing trend with cell and colony size. Whereas MAAs are thought to be intracellularly located, the large values of S determined for P. antarctica suggests that UV-absorbing compounds associated with the colonies are located within the extracellular colonial matrix. The results indicate that most phytoplankton species examined have the potential to respond to an increase in UVR resulting from seasonal changes in solar zenith angle by increasing their MAA content. A similar response to elevated UVB levels resulting from depleted ozone concentrations may be limited to P. antarctica.


Mycosporine-like amino acids · MAAs · UV radiation · Antarctica · Phytoplankton · Photoinduction · Phaeocystis · Diatoms


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