Quantifying Cyanothece growth under DIC limitation

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The photoautotrophic, unicellular N2-fixer, Cyanothece, is a model organism that has been widely used to study photosynthesis regulation, the structure of photosystems, and the temporal segregation of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) fixation in light and dark phases of the diel cycle. Here, we present a simple quantitative model and experimental data that together, suggest external dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) concentration as a major limiting factor for Cyanothece growth, due to its high C-storage requirement. Using experimental data from a parallel laboratory study as a basis, we show that after the onset of the light period, DIC was rapidly consumed by photosynthesis, leading to a sharp drop in the rate of photosynthesis and C accumulation. In N2-fixing cultures, high rates of photosynthesis in the morning enabled rapid conversion of DIC to intracellular C storage, hastening DIC consumption to levels that limited further uptake. The N2-fixing condition allows only a small fraction of fixed C for cellular growth since a large fraction was reserved in storage to fuel night-time N2 fixation. Our model provides a framework for resolving DIC limitation in aquatic ecosystem simulations, where DIC as a growth-limiting factor has rarely been considered, and importantly emphasizes the effect of intracellular C allocation on growth rate that varies depending on the growth environment.

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Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal