A Mechanistic Model of Macromolecular Allocation, Elemental Stoichiometry, and Growth Rate in Phytoplankton

Keisuke Inomura, Anne Willem Omta, David Talmy, Jason Bragg, Curtis Deutsch, Michael J. Follows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


We present a model of the growth rate and elemental stoichiometry of phytoplankton as a function of resource allocation between and within broad macromolecular pools under a variety of resource supply conditions. The model is based on four, empirically-supported, cornerstone assumptions: that there is a saturating relationship between light and photosynthesis, a linear relationship between RNA/protein and growth rate, a linear relationship between biosynthetic proteins and growth rate, and a constant macromolecular composition of the light-harvesting machinery. We combine these assumptions with statements of conservation of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and energy. The model can be solved algebraically for steady state conditions and constrained with data on elemental stoichiometry from published laboratory chemostat studies. It interprets the relationships between macromolecular and elemental stoichiometry and also provides quantitative predictions of the maximum growth rate at given light intensity and nutrient supply rates. The model is compatible with data sets from several laboratory studies characterizing both prokaryotic and eukaryotic phytoplankton from marine and freshwater environments. It is conceptually simple, yet mechanistic and quantitative. Here, the model is constrained only by elemental stoichiometry, but makes predictions about allocation to measurable macromolecular pools, which could be tested in the laboratory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number86
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
StatePublished - Feb 28 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Microbiology


  • RNA
  • elemental stoichiometry
  • growth rate
  • macromolecule
  • nutrient storage
  • photosynthesis
  • phytoplankton
  • protein


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