Dynamics of transparent exopolymer particle production and aggregation during viral infection of the coccolithophore, Emiliania huxleyi

Jozef I. Nissimov, Rebecca Vandzura, Christopher T. Johns, Frank Natale, Liti Haramaty, Kay D. Bidle

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Emiliania huxleyi produces calcium carbonate (CaCO3) coccoliths and transparent exopolymer particles (TEP), sticky, acidic carbohydrates that facilitate aggregation. E. huxleyi's extensive oceanic blooms are often terminated by coccolithoviruses (EhVs) with the transport of cellular debris and associated particulate organic carbon (POC) to depth being facilitated by TEP-bound ‘marine snow’ aggregates. The dynamics of TEP production and particle aggregation in response to EhV infection are poorly understood. Using flow cytometry, spectrophotometry and FlowCam visualization of alcian blue (AB)-stained aggregates, we assessed TEP production and the size spectrum of aggregates for E. huxleyi possessing different degrees of calcification and cellular CaCO3:POC mass ratios, when challenged with two EhVs (EhV207 and EhV99B1). FlowCam imaging also qualitatively assessed the relative amount of AB-stainable TEP (i.e., blue:red ratio of each particle). We show significant increases in TEP during early phase EhV207-infection (∼ 24 h) of calcifying strains and a shift towards large aggregates following EhV99B1-infection. We also observed the formation of large aggregates with low blue:red ratios, suggesting that other exopolymer substances contribute towards aggregation. Our findings show the potential for virus infection and the associated response of their hosts to impact carbon flux dynamics and provide incentive to explore these dynamics in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2880-2897
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Early online date9 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2018


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