Dust-and mineral-iron utilization by the marine dinitrogen-fixer Trichodesmium

Maxim Rubin, Ilana Berman-Frank, Yeala Shaked

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Trichodesmium, a filamentous dinitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium, forms extensive blooms in nutrient-poor tropical and subtropical ocean waters. These cyano-bacteria contribute significantly to biological fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere in these waters, and thereby fuel primary production and influence nutrient flow and the cycling of organic and inorganic matter 1,2. Trichodesmium blooms require large quantities of iron, which is partly supplied by the influx of wind-blown dust3. However, the processes and mechanisms associated with dust acquisition are poorly understood3-6. Here, we incubate natural populations and laboratory cultures of Trichodesmium with isotopically labelled iron oxides and desert dust, to determine how these cyanobacteria collect, process and use particulate iron. We show that, like most phytoplankton, Trichodesmium acquires only dissolved iron. However, unlike other studied phytoplankton, Trichodesmium accelerates the rate of iron dissolution from oxides and dust, through as yet unspecified cell-surface processes, and thereby increases cellular iron uptake rates. We show that natural puff (ball-shaped) colonies of Trichodesmium are particularly effective at dissolving dust and oxides, which we attribute to efficient dust trapping in their intricate colony morphology, followed by active shuttling and packaging of the dust within the colony core. We suggest that colony formation in Trichodesmium is an adaptive strategy that enhances iron acquisition from particulate sources such as dust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-534
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank O. Levitan and D. Spungin for help with Trichodesmium culturing, H. Lis for help with uptake experiments, and V. Farstey, M. Dray and I. Avishay for help with natural Trichodesmium collection. This work was supported in part by the Israel Science Foundation grant 933/07 and the Israel USA Binational Science Foundation grant 2008097 awarded to Y.S. and BMBF-MOST GR1950 to I.B-F. This work is in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a MSc thesis to M.R. from Bar Ilan University.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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