Algal evolution in relation to atmospheric CO2: carboxylases, carbon-concentrating mechanisms and carbon oxidation cycles

John Raven, Mario Giordano, John Beardall, Stephen Maberly

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Oxygenic photosynthesis evolved at least 2.4 Ga; all oxygenic organisms use the ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase (Rubisco)-photosynthetic carbon reduction cycle (PCRC) rather than one of the five other known pathways of autotrophic CO(2) assimilation. The high CO(2) and (initially) O(2)-free conditions permitted the use of a Rubisco with a high maximum specific reaction rate. As CO(2) decreased and O(2) increased, Rubisco oxygenase activity increased and 2-phosphoglycolate was produced, with the evolution of pathways recycling this inhibitory product to sugar phosphates. Changed atmospheric composition also selected for Rubiscos with higher CO(2) affinity and CO(2)/O(2) selectivity correlated with decreased CO(2)-saturated catalytic capacity and/or for CO(2)-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs). These changes increase the energy, nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, zinc and manganese cost of producing and operating Rubisco-PCRC, while biosphere oxygenation decreased the availability of nitrogen, phosphorus and iron. The majority of algae today have CCMs; the timing of their origins is unclear. If CCMs evolved in a low-CO(2) episode followed by one or more lengthy high-CO(2) episodes, CCM retention could involve a combination of environmental factors known to favour CCM retention in extant organisms that also occur in a warmer high-CO(2) ocean. More investigations, including studies of genetic adaptation, are needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493 - 507
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1588
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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