Evolution and regulation of nitrogen flux through compartmentalized metabolic networks in a marine diatom

Nat Commun. 2019 Oct 7;10(1):4552. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-12407-y.


Diatoms outcompete other phytoplankton for nitrate, yet little is known about the mechanisms underpinning this ability. Genomes and genome-enabled studies have shown that diatoms possess unique features of nitrogen metabolism however, the implications for nutrient utilization and growth are poorly understood. Using a combination of transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, fluxomics, and flux balance analysis to examine short-term shifts in nitrogen utilization in the model pennate diatom in Phaeodactylum tricornutum, we obtained a systems-level understanding of assimilation and intracellular distribution of nitrogen. Chloroplasts and mitochondria are energetically integrated at the critical intersection of carbon and nitrogen metabolism in diatoms. Pathways involved in this integration are organelle-localized GS-GOGAT cycles, aspartate and alanine systems for amino moiety exchange, and a split-organelle arginine biosynthesis pathway that clarifies the role of the diatom urea cycle. This unique configuration allows diatoms to efficiently adjust to changing nitrogen status, conferring an ecological advantage over other phytoplankton taxa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Chloroplasts / genetics
  • Chloroplasts / metabolism
  • Diatoms / genetics*
  • Diatoms / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Proteomics / methods
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Nitrates
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen