Coping with iron limitation: a metabolomic study of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803

Albert Rivas-Ubach, Amisha T. Poret-Peterson, Josep Peñuelas, Jordi Sardans, Míriam Pérez-Trujillo, Cristina Legido-Quigley, Michal Oravec, Otmar Urban, James J. Elser

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Iron (Fe) is a key element for all living systems, especially for photosynthetic organisms because of its important role in the photosynthetic electron transport chain. Fe limitation in cyanobacteria leads to several physiological and morphological changes. However, the overall metabolic responses to Fe limitation are still poorly understood. In this study, we integrated elemental, stoichiometric, macromolecular, and metabolomic data to shed light on the responses of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, a non-N2-fixing freshwater cyanobacterium, to Fe limitation. Compared to Synechocystis growing at nutrient replete conditions, Fe-limited cultures had lower growth rates and amounts of chlorophyll a, RNA, RNA:DNA, C, N, and P, and higher ratios of protein:RNA, C:N, C:P, and N:P, in accordance with the growth rate hypothesis which predicts faster growing organisms will have decreased biomass RNA contents and C:P and N:P ratios. Fe-limited Synechocystis had lower amounts Fe, Mn, and Mo, and higher amount of Cu. Several changes in amino acids of cultures growing under Fe limitation suggest nitrogen limitation. In addition, we found substantial increases in stress-related metabolites in Fe-limited cyanobacteria such antioxidants. This study represents an advance in understanding the stoichiometric, macromolecular, and metabolic strategies that cyanobacteria use to cope with Fe limitation. This information, moreover, may further understanding of changes in cyanobacterial functions under scenarios of Fe limitation in aquatic ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28
JournalActa Physiologiae Plantarum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Cyanobacteria
  • Ecological stoichiometry
  • Iron limitation
  • Metabolomics
  • Metallomics


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