Structural and physiological effects of calcium and magnesium in Emiliania huxleyi (Lohmann) Hay and Mohler

J Struct Biol. 2004 Dec;148(3):307-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2004.07.005.


In organisms which perform both photosynthesis and calcification, the fact that calcification proceeds faster in the light than in the dark has led to the long-established view that photosynthesis and calcification are closely coupled. It is now clear that calcification does not promote photosynthesis, but an enhancement of calcification by photosynthesis could still explain why calcification is faster in the light. To test this, the kinetics of the two processes were monitored over a wide range of calcium concentrations (0-50 mM) in the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi. The addition of 50 mM calcium strongly inhibited both processes, but when incubated in lower concentrations, rates of calcification increased up to 20 mM calcium whilst those of photosynthesis remained constant over the same range of calcium concentrations. So, rates of calcification are able to rise without a concomitant increase in photosynthetic rates. In addition, calcification rate and coccolith morphology responded similarly to changes in calcium concentrations; low calcification rates were associated with poor coccolith structure (undercalcification) and high calcification rates with perfectly formed coccoliths. Calcium concentration thus strongly influences calcification affecting both crystal structure and rate of calcite deposition. A similar structural analysis of coccoliths from cells grown in different magnesium concentrations showed that this ion is also essential for calcification, since strong signs of coccolith malformation and undercalcification were apparent at both low and high magnesium concentrations. In contrast with the calcium results, coccoliths were flawless only in the normal seawater concentration of 58 mM magnesium. We conclude that photosynthesis and calcification are not closely coupled and that calcification depends on a precise balance of both calcium and magnesium concentrations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calcification, Physiologic / physiology*
  • Calcium / chemistry*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Carbon
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Eukaryotic Cells / physiology*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Magnesium / chemistry*
  • Magnesium / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Photosynthesis*
  • Seawater


  • Carbon
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium