The Role of Extracellular Carbonic Anhydrase in Biogeochemical Cycling: Recent Advances and Climate Change Responses

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jul 10;22(14):7413. doi: 10.3390/ijms22147413.


Climate change has been predicted to influence the marine phytoplankton community and its carbon acquisition strategy. Extracellular carbonic anhydrase (eCA) is a zinc metalloenzyme that catalyses the relatively slow interconversion between HCO3- and CO2. Early results indicated that sub-nanomolar levels of eCA at the sea surface were sufficient to enhance the oceanic uptake rate of CO2 on a global scale by 15%, an addition of 0.37 Pg C year-1. Despite its central role in the marine carbon cycle, only in recent years have new analytical techniques allowed the first quantifications of eCA and its activity in the oceans. This opens up new research areas in the field of marine biogeochemistry and climate change. Light and suitable pH conditions, as well as growth stage, are crucial factors in eCA expression. Previous studies showed that phytoplankton eCA activity and concentrations are affected by environmental stressors such as ocean acidification and UV radiation as well as changing light conditions. For this reason, eCA is suggested as a biochemical indicator in biomonitoring programmes and could be used for future response prediction studies in changing oceans. This review aims to identify the current knowledge and gaps where new research efforts should be focused to better determine the potential feedback of phytoplankton via eCA in the marine carbon cycle in changing oceans.

Keywords: carbon-concentrating mechanism; diatom; ocean acidification; sea surface microlayer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbonic Anhydrases / metabolism*
  • Climate Change*
  • Phytoplankton / enzymology*
  • Seawater / analysis*


  • Carbonic Anhydrases