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Metabolic analyses by metatranscriptomics highlight plasticity in phosphorus acquisition during monospecific and multispecies algal blooms


Algal blooms have emerged as a global phenomenon affecting coastal areas, while the regulatory mechanisms are poorly understood. To explore the effects of environmental factors, especially phosphate concentrations, on the outbreak and maintenance of algal blooms, this study used a metatranscriptomic approach to analyze the molecular responses of phytoplankton during two blooms in 2013 near Qinhuangdao, China. Pico/nanophytoplanktons (< 10 μm) were dominant numerically in the two algal blooms. Significant shifts in KEGG pathway expression were observed with the succession of phytoplankton, suggesting high temporal plasticity in the expressed metabolic capacity. The KEGG pathway expression pattern in the multispecies bloom on August 22 showed higher gene expression of primary metabolic pathways and lower gene expression of secondary metabolic pathways than that in the monospecific bloom on July 20. Pico/nanophytoplankton showed species-specific transcriptional responses to the shifts in N/P ratios and phosphate concentrations. Our results demonstrate how the species specificity and temporal plasticity of resource utilization capacities enable pico/nanophytoplankton to induce monospecific and multispecies blooms under different phosphate conditions. This study provides a basis for further work on the gene responses of multispecies assemblages of algae to different environmental parameters during algal bloom succession.

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Data availability

We have submitted all sequencing data used in this project to the Sequence Read Archive (SRA) database at GenBank (PRJNA357023) and will be publicly available until online published.


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We are grateful to Fangjin Cheng, Huajie Sun, Yongquan Yuan, Zaixing Wu, Zhifu Wang, Guangyuan Lu, Yang Liu, Yanfeng Li, and Jing Li from Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences for sampling and logistical support. We also thank Shijun Xiao, Huan Wang, and Youzhi Mao from Frasergen in Wuhan for their help with data analysis. This work was supported by the Taishan Scholars Climbing Program of Shandong Province (2019.01–2023.12), the Marine S&T Fund of Shandong Province for Pilot National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (Qingdao) [Grant Number 2018SDKJ0504-2], the Science and Technology Major Project of Guangxi [Grant Number AA17202020-4], and the NSFC-Shandong Joint Fund for Marine Science Research Centers [Grant Number U1606404].

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Xu, X., Yu, Z., He, L. et al. Metabolic analyses by metatranscriptomics highlight plasticity in phosphorus acquisition during monospecific and multispecies algal blooms. Hydrobiologia 847, 1071–1085 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-019-04169-x

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  • Metatranscriptome
  • Algal bloom succession
  • Phosphorus utilization
  • Temporal plasticity
  • Species specificity