Between a rock and a hard place: trace element nutrition in Chlamydomonas

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2006 Jul;1763(7):578-94. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2006.04.007. Epub 2006 Apr 26.


Photosynthetic organisms are among the earliest life forms on earth and their biochemistry is strictly dependent on a wide range of inorganic nutrients owing to the use of metal cofactor-dependent enzymes in photosynthesis, respiration, inorganic nitrogen and sulfur assimilation. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a photosynthetic eukaryotic model organism for the study of trace metal homeostasis. Chlamydomonas spp. are widely distributed and can be found in soil, glaciers, acid mines and sewage ponds, suggesting that the genus has significant capacity for acclimation to micronutrient availability. Analysis of the draft genome indicates that metal homeostasis mechanisms in Chlamydomonas represent a blend of mechanisms operating in animals, plants and microbes. A combination of classical genetics, differential expression and genomic analysis has led to the identification of homologues of components known to operate in fungi and animals (e.g., Fox1, Ftr1, Fre1, Fer1, Ctr1/2) as well as novel molecules involved in copper and iron nutrition (Crr1, Fea1/2). Besides activating iron assimilation pathways, iron-deficient Chlamydomonas cells re-adjust metabolism by reducing light delivery to photosystem I (to avoid photo-oxidative damage resulting from compromised FeS clusters) and by modifying the ferredoxin profile (perhaps to accommodate preferential allocation of reducing equivalents). Up-regulation of a MnSOD isoform may compensate for loss of FeSOD. Ferritin could function to buffer the iron released from programmed degradation of iron-containing enzymes in the chloroplast. Some metabolic adjustments are made in anticipation of deficiency while others occur only with sustained or severe deficiency. Copper-deficient Chlamydomonas cells induce a copper assimilation pathway consisting of a cell surface reductase and a Cu(+) transporter (presumed CTR homologue). There are metabolic adaptations in addition: the synthesis of "back-up" enzymes for plastocyanin in photosynthesis and the ferroxidase in iron assimilation plus activation of alternative oxidase to handle the electron "overflow" resulting from reduced cytochrome oxidase function. Oxygen-dependent enzymes in the tetrapyrrole pathway (coproporphyrinogen oxidase and aerobic oxidative cyclase) are also increased in expression and activity by as much as 10-fold but the connection between copper nutrition and tetrapyrroles is not understood. The copper-deficiency responses are mediated by copper response elements that are defined by a GTAC core sequence and a novel metalloregulator, Crr1, which uses a zinc-dependent SBP domain to bind to the CuRE. The Chlamydomonas model is ideal for future investigation of nutritional manganese deficiency and selenoenzyme function. It is also suited for studies of trace nutrient interactions, nutrition-dependent metabolic changes, the relationship between photo-oxidative stress and metal homeostasis, and the important questions of differential allocation of limiting metal nutrients (e.g., to respiration vs. photosynthesis).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlamydomonas / genetics
  • Chlamydomonas / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Homeostasis
  • Trace Elements / metabolism*


  • Trace Elements