International Journal of Ecology

International Journal of Ecology / 2013 / Article

Research Article | Open Access

Volume 2013 |Article ID 234372 |

Gary H. Wikfors, Emilie Fernandez, "Induced Bacteriovory in a Declining Culture of the Mixotrophic Dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum (Pavillard) Schiller", International Journal of Ecology, vol. 2013, Article ID 234372, 4 pages, 2013.

Induced Bacteriovory in a Declining Culture of the Mixotrophic Dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum (Pavillard) Schiller

Academic Editor: Pavlos Kassomenos
Received25 Jun 2013
Accepted22 Oct 2013
Published03 Dec 2013


Bacteriovory was reported previously in the dinoflagellate, Prorocentrum minimum, but it was unclear if this is constitutive or induced under certain conditions. We tested the hypothesis that phosphate deficiency, or cessation of autotrophic growth for other reasons, would induce bacteriovory in a culture of P. minimum that is harmful to shellfish. Phosphate-starved cells did not ingest fluorescently labeled bacteria and died. In stationary-phase, full-enrichment cultures, more than half of viable P. minimum cells showed declines in chlorophyll that was coincident with incorporation of fluorescently labeled bacteria. Declining populations of P. minimum increase in toxicity to suspension-feeding shellfish; this suggests a possible association between bacteriovory and toxicity.

1. Introduction

Prorocentrum minimum (Pavillard) Schiller is a dinoflagellate with world wide distribution in coastal waters; blooms can have ecosystem-disrupting consequences [1]. Sporadic expression of toxicity to mammals [2] and to suspension-feeding molluscs [36] has been reported. Although toxicity in this species appears to be strain dependent [2], recently we demonstrated conclusively that senescent cultures of one strain are more bioactive against bivalves than actively growing cultures [7]. The chemical identities of toxic agents produced by this species are unknown, although the term “venerrupin” has been associated with it [1].

Prorocentrum minimum has been described as a mixotroph [8]. The species grows photosynthetically on inorganic nutrients with light as the sole energy source but has been shown to assimilate dissolved, organic nitrogen and carbon compounds [9]. Furthermore, phycoerythrin fluorescence within P. minimum cells growing together with cryptophytes, and incorporation of coincubated, fluorescently-labeled bacteria [10] indicate the potential for phagotrophy in this species.

Previous observations in our laboratory of lowered chlorophyll content in declining cultures of Prorocentrum minimum (unpublished microscope and flow-cytometer observations) suggested loss of photosynthetic capacity, yet cultures remain viable for months after nearly all pigments have disappeared. Previous studies have shown that P. minimum can release a bacteriostatic compound when cultured under phosphate-depleted conditions [11], which we confirmed with the JA-98-01 strain of P. minimum used in the present study (data not shown). In an initial experiment, we found no evidence that fluorescently labeled bacteria were incorporated within cells of actively growing cultures of the JA-98-01 strain, in contrast to the findings of Li et al. [10].

In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that phagotrophic ingestion of bacteria by Prorocentrum minimum strain JA-98-01 is initiated by either phosphate deficiency or other physiological changes associated with cessation of autotrophic growth.

2. Materials and Methods

Triplicate, 500 mL Erlenmeyer flasks were prepared with 250 mL of the following enriched-seawater media: (1) nutrient-replete, EDL7 [12], and (2) EDL7 with no phosphate enrichment. Each flask was inoculated with an EDL7-grown culture of the JA-98-01 strain of Prorocentrum minimum (Choptank, MD, USA isolate maintained in the Milford Microalgal Culture Collection) at  cells mL−1 and incubated in a light room at 18°C with 12 : 12 hr illumination at 175 μE m−2 s−1 PAR. Cultures were sampled aseptically three days per week and counted with a FACScan flow cytometer (BD BioSciences, San Jose, CA, USA), identifying P. minimum cells based on side scatter and chlorophyll fluorescence (SSC/FL3).

On days 7 and 26, incorporation of fluorescently labeled bacteria within P. minimum cells subsampled from the cultures was tested. Bacteria for these tests were collected from another, full-nutrient, actively growing culture of JA-98-01 (the strain is bacterized) by selective filtration and stained with BacLight Green (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA, USA). Stained bacteria were washed twice in sterile-filtered (0.22 μm) seawater (FSW) and added to a sub-sample of P. minimum from each experimental flask at approximately the same number of stained bacteria (  cells mL−1) as the density of unstained bacteria. After 30 min and 1, 24, and 48 hr of incubation in the dark at 18°C, samples were run on the flow cytometer; presence of fluorescently-labeled bacteria associated with the P. minimum cells was determined by FL1 (green fluorescence) of cells within the P. minimum SSC/FL3 region. In addition, samples were observed with epifluorescence microscopy (Zeiss AxioSkop 2) to determine if green-fluorescent bacteria were within P. minimum cells or were attached to the outside.

3. Results and Discussion

Division time of Prorocentrum minimum in both treatments was approximately 3 d for the first 14 d (Figure 1(a)). By day 21, the full-nutrient cultures had reached a stable, stationary phase of approximately 105 cells mL−1, while the phosphate-deficient cultures fluctuated between 0.2 and  cells mL−1. After 32 or 35 days, cells were alive and motile, but not increasing in number.

The test for incorporation of fluorescently labelled bacteria on day 7 showed no evidence, by flow cytometry or epifluorescence microscopy, of bacteriotrophy in any cultures. On day 26, green bacterial fluorescence associated with full-nutrient P. minimum cells incubated with fluorescently-labeled bacteria was observed with both flow cytometry and microscope observations (Figure 1(b)). In these full-nutrient cultures, the flow cytometer discriminated two distinct populations of P. minimum cells: one with relatively high chlorophyll fluorescence and the other with less red fluorescence (Figure 1(b)). Intensity of green fluorescence in low-chlorophyll cells increased from 30 min to 1 hr, decreasing thereafter, and was significantly higher than in chlorophyll-replete cells (Figure 1(c), -test, ). Thus, only the low-chlorophyll P. minimum cells in the full-enrichment medium were bacteriotrophic. Phosphate deprivation did not induce bacteriotrophy in this strain of P. minimum and did not result in a viable population of low-chlorophyll cells; instead, empty thecae of dead P. minimum cells were seen.

These findings suggest that bacteriostatic properties of phosphorus-deficient Prorocentrum minimum cultures are not involved in bacteriotrophy. Further, more-active bacteriovory in P. minimum cells with lower chlorophyll fluorescence than in high-chlorophyll cells suggests that ingestion of bacteria may replace the carbon fixed previously by photosynthesis [13].

Jeong and coauthors [14] reviewed ecological roles of mixotrophic dinoflagellates and used the list of prey ingested by P. minimum as an example of the diversity of prey that a mixotroph may feed on. In the section of this review devoted to light and nutrient effects, P. minimum prey-ingestion rates were reported to be independent of light; however, no reports on Prorocentrum spp. heterotrophy being affected by nutrient status are cited [14]. This review concludes, in part, that mixotrophy may have evolved to supplement autotrophic growth “when light and nutrient conditions are not favorable for photosynthesis.” In our study, light remained sufficient throughout the incubation, but nutrients were removed from solution during growth.

More recently, Glibert and co-authors [15] reviewed existing knowledge of the ecological roles of planktonic and benthic Prorocentrum species. This review advanced a compelling conceptual model linking P. minimum autecology with nutrient availability (Figure 13 in [15]). Using the Redfield ration of N : P as a fulcrum, these authors generalize that autotrophic growth dominates at N : P below the Redfield ratio, with high growth rates supported by reduced N substrates, especially urea. Above the Redfield, the model characterizes a transition to a mixotrophic mode associated with increased allelopathy or toxicity, slower growth, and increased alkaline-phosphatase activity. Although we did not set out to study nutrient ratios in the present study, we note that the nutrient enrichment used has an N : P ratio of 25—above the Redfield. Our results, nevertheless are consistent with the Glibert et al. [15] conceptual model in that declining growth in cultures that had assimilated a portion of the nutrients was coincident with a change in a high proportion of the population to mixotrophy (phagotrophy). Our main intent in reporting this change in trophic status is to emphasize that this same strain becomes more bioactive against scallops as this change in trophic status occurs, possibly implicating enzymes associated with digestion of bacteria in effects on mollusks [7].

The present study was part of a long-term effort to understand variable “toxicity” in Prorocentrum minimum [4]. That bacteriovory and higher toxicity are coincident in “declining” cultures does not demonstrate cause and effect, but previous studies suggest a possible mechanism linking these cell properties. Zhou and Fritz [16] reported that organelles within P. lima and P. maculosum cells that stained positively with periodic-acid Schiff (PAS-positive) were “lysosomes.” When P. minimum cells containing these PAS-positive bodies were fed to juvenile oysters, digestive gland absorptive cells became dysfunctional; accumulations of PAS-positive food vacuoles impeded further digestion [17]. The original interpretation of these observations was that lysosomes may release cytotoxic, autolytic enzymes. The present study presents the alternative interpretation that lysosomes in declining achlorotic P. minimum cells may be phagosomes wherein digestion of bacteria occurs. Possible associations between toxicity and bacteriovory in P. minimum may help to direct biochemical investigations into the identity of toxic agents produced by this enigmatic dinoflagellate.


The authors would like to thank Jennifer H. Alix for the technical assistance with microalgal cultures. Frank Almeida of the NEFSC generously provided travel support that made this study possible.


  1. C. A. Heil, P. M. Glibert, and C. Fan, “Prorocentrum minimum (Pavillard) Schiller:a review of a harmful algal bloom species of growing worldwide importance,” Harmful Algae, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 449–470, 2005. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  2. D. Grzebyk, A. Denardou, B. Berland, and Y. F. Pouchus, “Evidence of a new toxin in the red-tide dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum,” Journal of Plankton Research, vol. 19, no. 8, pp. 1111–1124, 1997. View at: Google Scholar
  3. M. W. Luckenbach, K. G. Sellner, S. E. Shumway, and K. Greene, “Effects of two bloom-forming dinoflagellates, Prorocentrum minimum and Gyrodinium uncatenum, on the growth and survival of the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin 1791),” Journal of Shellfish Research, vol. 12, pp. 411–415, 1993. View at: Google Scholar
  4. G. H. Wikfors, “A review and new analysis of trophic interactions between Prorocentrum minimum and clams, scallops, and oysters,” Harmful Algae, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 585–592, 2005. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  5. E. Galimany, I. Sunila, H. Hégaret, M. Ramón, and G. H. Wikfors, “Pathology and immune response of the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis L.) after an exposure to the harmful dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum,” Harmful Algae, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 630–638, 2008. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  6. H. Hégaret, P. M. da Silva, G. H. Wikfors, H. Haberkorn, S. E. Shumway, and P. Soudant, “In vitro interactions between several species of harmful algae and haemocytes of bivalve molluscs,” Cell Biology and Toxicology, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 249–266, 2011. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  7. Y. Li, I. Sunila, and G. H. Wikfors, “Bioactive effects of Prorocentrum minimum on juvenile bay scallops (Argopecten irradians irradians) are dependent upon algal physiological status,” Botanica Marina, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 19–29, 2012. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  8. D. K. Stoecker, A. Li, D. W. Coats, D. E. Gustafson, and M. K. Nannen, “Mixotrophy in the dineflagellate, Prorocentrum minimum,” Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 152, no. 1–3, pp. 1–12, 1997. View at: Google Scholar
  9. C. Fan, P. M. Glibert, and J. M. Burkholder, “Characterization of the affinity for nitrogen, uptake kinetics, and environmental relationships for Prorocentrum minimum in natural blooms and laboratory cultures,” Harmful Algae, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 283–299, 2003. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  10. A. Li, D. K. Stoecker, D. W. Coats, and E. J. Adam, “Ingestion of fluorescently labeled and phycoerythrin-containing prey by mixotrophic dinoflagellates,” Aquatic Microbial Ecology, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 139–147, 1996. View at: Google Scholar
  11. C. G. Trick, R. J. Andersen, and P. J. Harrison, “Environmental factors influencing the production of an antibacterial metabolite from a marine dinoflagellate, Prorocentrum minimum,” Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 423–432, 1984. View at: Google Scholar
  12. H. Hégaret and G. H. Wikfors, “Time-dependent changes in hemocytes of eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica, and northern bay scallops, Argopecten irradians irradians, exposed to a cultured strain of Prorocentrum minimum,” Harmful Algae, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 187–199, 2005. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  13. E. Granéli, “Kill your enemies and eat them with the help of your toxins: an algal strategy,” African Journal of Marine Science, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 331–336, 2006. View at: Google Scholar
  14. H. J. Jeong, Y. D. Yoo, J. S. Kim, K. A. Seong, N. S. Kang, and T. H. Kim, “Growth, feeding and ecological roles of the mixotrophic and heterotrophic dinoflagellates in marine planktonic food webs,” Ocean Science Journal, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 65–91, 2010. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  15. P. M. Glibert, J. M. Burkholder, and T. M. Kana, “Recent insights about relationships between nutrient availability, forms, and stoichiometry, and the distribution, ecophysiology, and food web effects of pelagic and benthic Prorocentrum species,” Harmful Algae, vol. 14, pp. 231–259, 2012. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  16. J. Zhou and L. Fritz, “The PAS/accumulation bodies in Prorocentrum lima and Prorocentrum maculosum (Dinophyceae) are dinoflagellate lysosomes,” Journal of Phycology, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 39–44, 1994. View at: Google Scholar
  17. G. H. Wikfors and R. M. Smolowitz, “Experimental and histological studies of four life-history stages of the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, exposed to a cultured strain of the dinoflagellate Prorocentrum minimum,” Biological Bulletin, vol. 188, no. 3, pp. 313–328, 1995. View at: Google Scholar

Copyright © 2013 Gary H. Wikfors and Emilie Fernandez. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

More related articles

1083 Views | 519 Downloads | 2 Citations
 PDF Download Citation Citation
 Download other formatsMore
 Order printed copiesOrder

Related articles

We are committed to sharing findings related to COVID-19 as quickly as possible. We will be providing unlimited waivers of publication charges for accepted research articles as well as case reports and case series related to COVID-19. Review articles are excluded from this waiver policy. Sign up here as a reviewer to help fast-track new submissions.