Phenotypic consequences of 1,000 generations of selection at elevated CO2 in a green alga

Nature. 2004 Sep 30;431(7008):566-9. doi: 10.1038/nature02945.


Estimates of the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations on future global plant production rely on the physiological response of individual plants or plant communities when exposed to high CO2 (refs 1-6). Plant populations may adapt to the changing atmosphere, however, such that the evolved plant communities of the next century are likely to be genetically different from contemporary communities. The properties of these future communities are unknown, introducing a bias of unknown sign and magnitude into projections of global carbon pool dynamics. Here we report a long-term selection experiment to investigate the phenotypic consequences of selection for growth at elevated CO2 concentrations. After about 1,000 generations, selection lines of the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas failed to evolve specific adaptation to a CO2 concentration of 1,050 parts per million. Some lines, however, evolved a syndrome involving high rates of photosynthesis and respiration, combined with higher chlorophyll content and reduced cell size. These lines also grew poorly at ambient concentrations of CO2. We tentatively attribute this outcome to the accumulation of conditionally neutral mutations in genes affecting the carbon concentration mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atmosphere / chemistry*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism*
  • Cell Respiration
  • Chlamydomonas reinhardtii / growth & development
  • Chlamydomonas reinhardtii / metabolism*
  • Chlorophyll / analysis
  • Chlorophyll A
  • Kinetics
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Photosynthesis
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Chlorophyll
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen
  • Chlorophyll A