Microbial rhodopsins are increasingly favoured over chlorophyll in High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll waters

Babak Hassanzadeh, Blair Thomson, Fenella Deans, Jess Wenley, Scott Lockwood, Kim Currie, Sergio E. Morales, Laura Steindler, Sergio A. Sañudo-Wilhelmy, Federico Baltar, Laura Gómez-Consarnau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microbial rhodopsins are simple light-harvesting complexes that, unlike chlorophyll photosystems, have no iron requirements for their synthesis and phototrophic functions. Here, we report the environmental concentrations of rhodopsin along the Subtropical Frontal Zone off New Zealand, where Subtropical waters encounter the iron-limited Subantarctic High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll (HNLC) region. Rhodopsin concentrations were highest in HNLC waters where chlorophyll-a concentrations were lowest. Furthermore, while the ratio of rhodopsin to chlorophyll-a photosystems was on average 20 along the transect, this ratio increased to over 60 in HNLC waters. We further show that microbial rhodopsins are abundant in both picoplankton (0.2–3 μm) and in the larger (>3 μm) size fractions of the microbial community containing eukaryotic plankton and/or particle-attached prokaryotes. These findings suggest that rhodopsin phototrophy could be critical for microbial plankton to adapt to resource-limiting environments where photosynthesis and possibly cellular respiration are impaired.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-406
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology Reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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