Acquisition of Inorganic Carbon by Microalgae and Cyanobacteria

John Beardall, John A. Raven

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Otherpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Ribulose-1, 5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) and the Calvin cycle are the dominant features of inorganic carbon assimilation in all cyanobacteria and microalgae. Rubisco carboxylase shows a relatively low affinity for CO2 and also has an oxygenase activity. These features can lead to inefficiencies in carbon assimilation, involving the process of photorespiration. However, cyanobacteria and algae possess mechanisms that minimise the effects of unfavourable Rubisco kinetics and photorespiration. These involve evolution of Rubiscos with kinetics that are more favourable to carboxylase activity and/or the presence of mechanisms that increase the concentration of CO2 at the active site of Rubisco (CO2 concentrating mechanisms, CCMs). CCMs are mostly based on active transport of HCO3. In one species of marine diatom, there appears to be a biochemical CCM where single cells show a C3-C4 intermediate form of C assimilation. In cyanobacteria HCO3- accumulation involves active transport of HCO3- at the plasmalemma and/or downhill CO2 entry with energised conversion of CO2 to HCO3- at the thylakoid membrane, with CO2 accumulated within carboxysomes that contain all of the cellular Rubisco as well as carbonic anhydrase. In eukaryotic microalgae active HCO3- transport occurs at either the plasmalemma or chloroplast envelope or both. In those algae that possess them, CO2 is ultimately concentrated within Rubisco-containing pyrenoids, though it is important to note that the presence of pyrenoids is not an absolute requirement for CCMs. Algae and cyanobacteria can assimilate inorganic carbon in the dark, a process reflecting the need of cells to replenish the supply of C4 intermediates of the TCA cycle as they are removed for biosynthesis. A few can also assimilate organic carbon sources, including in some cases by phagotrophy.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMicrobial Photosynthesis
EditorsQiang Wang
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789811531101
ISBN (Print)9789811531095
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Algae
  • CO concentrating mechanisms
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Inorganic carbon
  • Osmomixotrophy
  • Photorespiration
  • Rubisco

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