Quantifying oxygen management and temperature and light dependencies of nitrogen fixation by Crocosphaera watsonii

Keisuke Inomura, Curtis Deutsch, Samuel T. Wilson, Takako Masuda, Evelyn Lawrenz, Bučinská Lenka, Roman Sobotka, Mak A. Gauglitz, Jenna F. Saito, Ondsřej Prášil, Michael J. Follows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Crocosphaera is a major dinitrogen (N2)-fixing microorganism, providing bioavailable nitrogen (N) to marine ecosystems. The N2-fixing enzyme nitrogenase is deactivated by oxygen (O2), which is abundant in marine environments. Using a cellular scale model of Crocosphaera sp. and laboratory data, we quantify the role of three O2 management strategies by Crocosphaera sp.: size adjustment, reduced O2 diffusivity, and respiratory protection. Our model predicts that Crocosphaera cells increase their size under high O2. Using transmission electron microscopy, we show that starch granules and thylakoid membranes are located near the cytoplasmic membranes, forming a barrier for O2. The model indicates a critical role for respiration in protecting the rate of N2 fixation. Moreover, the rise in respiration rates and the decline in ambient O2 with temperature strengthen this mechanism in warmer water, providing a physiological rationale for the observed niche of Crocosphaera at temperatures exceeding 20°C. Our new measurements of the sensitivity to light intensity show that the rate of N2 fixation reaches saturation at a lower light intensity (∼100 μmol m-2 s-1) than photosynthesis and that both are similarly inhibited by light intensities of 500 μmol m-2 s-1. This suggests an explanation for the maximum population of Crocosphaera occurring slightly below the ocean surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00531
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology


  • Carbon
  • Cell flux model
  • Crocosphaera
  • Daily cycle
  • Iron
  • Light
  • Nitrogen,Nitrogen fixation
  • Oxygen
  • Photosynthesis
  • Temperature


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