, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 697–707 | Cite as

Photosynthetic sensitivity of phytoplankton to commonly used pharmaceuticals and its dependence on cellular phosphorus status

  • Malgorzata Grzesiuk
  • Alexander Wacker
  • Elly Spijkerman


Recently pharmaceuticals have become significant environmental pollutants in aquatic ecosystems, that could affect primary producers such as microalgae. Here we analyzed the effect of pharmaceuticals on the photosynthesis of microalgae commonly found in freshwater—two species of Chlorophyceae and a member of the Eustigmatophyceae, via PAM fluorometry. As pharmaceuticals, three medicines often consumed in households were chosen: (i) fluoxetine, an antidepressant, (ii) propranolol, a β-blocker and (iii) ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory and analgesic medicine. The EC50 for the quantum yield of photosystem II in phytoplankton acclimated to inorganic phosphorus (Pi)-replete and Pi-limited conditions was estimated. Acute toxicity experiments over a 5 h exposure revealed that Nannochloropsis limnetica was the least sensitive to pharmaceuticals in its photosynthetic yield out of all species tested. Although the estimation of sub-lethal effects can be vital in contrast to that of LC50s, the EC50 values in all species and for all medicines were orders of magnitude higher than concentrations found in polluted surface water. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii was the most sensitive to fluoxetine (EC50 of 1.6 mg L−1), and propranolol (EC50 of 3 mg L−1). Acutodesmus obliquus was most sensitive to ibuprofen (EC50 of 288 mg L−1). Additionally, the sensitivity to the pharmaceuticals changed under a Pi-limitation; the green algae became less sensitive to fluoxetine and propranolol. In contrast, Pi-limited algal species were more sensitive to ibuprofen. Our results suggest that the sensitivity of algae to pharmaceuticals is (i) highly compound- and species-specific and (ii) dependent on the cellular P status.


Freshwater algae Medicine EC50 PAM fluorometry Tolerance 



ES acknowledges the German Research Foundation (DFG, SP 695/5). AW thanks the DFG for funding (WA 2445/8-1) and the post graduate program of the University of Potsdam. MG likes to thank Lukasz Dziewit for consultations. The authors thank both reviewers for their constructive comments and Mark Clegg for English correction.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10646_2016_1628_MOESM1_ESM.docx (45 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 46 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Hydrobiology, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of Warsaw at Biological and Chemical Research CentreWarsawPoland
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Ecosystem Modelling, Institute for Biochemistry and BiologyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany

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