UV damage to plant life in a photobiologically dynamic environment: The case of marine phytoplankton

W.W.C. Gieskes, A.G.J. Buma

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The effect of UV-B radiation on growth of marine phytoplankton was investigated in relation to DNA damage induced by a range of biologically effective doses (BEDs). Emiliania huxleyi (Prymnesiophyceae) was chosen as a model organism of the ocean's phytoplankton because of its importance in global biogeochemical cycling Of carbon and sulphur, elements that influence the world's climate as components of the trace gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and dimethylsulfide (DMS). A marine diatom, Cyclotella, was studied for its capacity to repair the DNA damage, quantified as thymine dimers by the application of a monoclonal antibody against these photoproducts. DNA repair was shown to be complete after just a few hours of exposure to visible light; the repair rate increased with PAR intensity. E. huxleyi appeared to be most sensitive to UV-B radiation: growth was already affected above a dose of 100 J m(-2) d(-1) (biologically effective radiation, weighted with Setlow's DNA action spectrum), probably through effects on the cell cycle related to damage to nuclear DNA: mean specific growth rates were inversely correlated with thymine dimer contents in cells. Near the ocean's surface UV-B radiation conditions that induce the changes observed by us in cultures can be expected during the growing season of phytoplankton, not only in the tropics but also at higher latitudes. Nevertheles, blooms of species such as E. huxleyi are often excessive in the field. It is suggested that exposure duration of cells near the surface of the ocean can be shorter than our artificial mixing reaches depths greater than the layer where most UV-B is attenuated, negative effects on cells through W-A-induced inhibition of photosynthesis may prevail over DNA damage, the action spectrum of which has been shown to be limited to the UV-B part of the spectrum. Moreover, the radiation wavelengths that induce DNA damage repair (UV-A and visible) are attenuated vertically much less than UV-B. The photobiological situation in the upper ocean is much more complicated than on land, and effects of UV radiation on plankton biota can only be modelled realistically here when both the spectrally differential attenuation in the UV and visual part of the spectrum and the rate of vertical mixing are taken into account. Action spectra of both damage and repair of DNA and of photosynthesis inhibition of representative microalgal species are the second conditio sine qua non if we want to predict the effect of stratospheric ozone depletion on marine phytoplankton performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalPlant ecology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jan-1997
EventInternational Workshop Entitled UV-B and Biosphere - , Netherlands
Duration: 15-Dec-199618-Dec-1996


  • DNA damage
  • microalgae
  • ocean
  • photoproducts
  • thymine dimers
  • UV-B
  • UV-A

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