Iron is an essential nutrient for photosynthetic plankton (phytoplankton), but owing to its low solubility in vast areas of the ocean the concentration of this metal is low, limiting the growth of the phytoplankton. Andrew Allen and co-workers show that the phytoplankton Phaeodactylum tricornutum has developed a specific iron acquisition mechanism that relies on activity of the ISIP2A protein. ISIP2A represents a functional analogue of transferrin—a metazoan protein that binds iron with high affinity—as both proteins use similar iron binding, internalization and release mechanisms, suggesting their independent and convergent evolution. Both proteins bind iron through a synergistic interaction of ferric iron and CO32-, and because ocean acidification decreases CO32- concentration it may also decrease phytoplankton iron uptake and growth.
- Carbonate-sensitive phytotransferrin controls high-affinity iron uptake in diatoms (Letter p534, doi: 10.1038/nature25982)
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