Extreme cellular adaptations and cell differentiation required by a cyanobacterium for carbonate excavation

Brandon Scott Guida, Ferran Garcia-Pichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Some cyanobacteria, known as euendoliths, excavate and grow into calcium carbonates, with their activity leading to significant marine and terrestrial carbonate erosion and to deleterious effects on coral reef and bivalve ecology. Despite their environmental relevance, the mechanisms by which they can bore have remained elusive and paradoxical, in that, as oxygenic phototrophs, cyanobacteria tend to alkalinize their surroundings, which will encourage carbonate precipitation, not dissolution. Therefore, cyanobacteria must rely on unique adaptations to bore. Studies with the filamentous euendolith, Mastigocoleus testarum, indicated that excavation requires both cellular energy and transcellular calcium transport, mediated by P-type ATPases, but the cellular basis for this phenomenon remains obscure. We present evidence that excavation in M. testarum involves two unique cellular adaptations. Long-range calcium transport is based on active pumping at multiple cells along boring filaments, orchestrated by the preferential localization of calcium ATPases at one cell pole, in a ring pattern, facing the cross-walls, and by repeating this placement and polarity, a pattern that breaks at branching and apical cells. In addition, M. testarum differentiates specialized cells we call calcicytes, that which accumulate calcium at concentrations more than 500-fold those found in other cyanobacteria, concomitantly and drastically lowering photosynthetic pigments and enduring severe cytoplasmatic alkalinization. Calcicytes occur commonly, but not exclusively, in apical parts of the filaments distal to the excavation front. We suggest that calcicytes allow for fast calcium flow at low, nontoxic concentrations through undifferentiated cells by providing buffering storage for excess calcium before final excretion to the outside medium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5712-5717
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 17 2016


  • Carbonate
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Differentiation
  • Endolithic
  • Euendolith

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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