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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 195:71-79 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps195071

Effects of iron and zinc deficiency on elemental composition and silica production by diatoms

Christina L. De La Rocha1,*, David A. Hutchins2, Mark A. Brzezinski3, Yaohong Zhang2

1Berkeley Center for Isotope Geochemistry, Department of Geology and Geophysics, MC4767, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-4767, USA
2College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware, Lewes, Delaware 19958, USA
3Marine Science Institute and Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA
*Present address: Harvard University, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 20 Oxford St, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: The cellular silicon, nitrogen, and carbon content and the kinetics of silicic acid use were determined for Thalassiosira weissflogii grown under nutrient-replete, iron-deficient, and zinc-deficient conditions to assess the effect of metal deficiency on diatom silicon metabolism. Iron- and zinc-deficient T. weissflogii cells contained 40 and 66% more silicon, respectively, than their nutrient-replete counterparts. Low Zn and low Fe also increased cellular C and N content. Low Zn increased cellular carbon by 55% and cellular N by 41%. Low Fe increased cellular C and N by 68 and 45%, respectively. Fe stress did not alter cellular Si/N ratios significantly, but Si/C ratios declined by 17%. In contrast, Zn stress increased Si/C and Si/N ratios by 41 and 53%, respectively. Both Zn and Fe stress dramatically altered the kinetics of silica production by T. weissflogii. Zn deficiency increased the half saturation constant (Ks) 64% and decreased the maximum specific uptake rate (Vmax) by 60%. In contrast, Fe stress did not affect the value of Ks, but decreased Vmax by 66%, similar to the decrease observed under low Zn. The decrease in Vmax in Zn-deficient cells was almost entirely due to the higher biogenic silica content of the metal-deficient cells. The decline in Vmax under Fe stress resulted from both the increase in cellular silica content and a 50% decline in the cellular uptake rates for silicic acid. The results indicate that Fe and Zn availability can significantly alter silicification in diatoms and affect the number and efficiency of silicon transport molecules in the cell membrane.

KEY WORDS: Diatoms · Silicon · Iron · Zinc · Silica production

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