Anaerobic metabolic pathways allow unicellular organisms to tolerate or colonize anoxic environments. Over the past ten years, genome sequencing projects have brought a new light on the extent of anaerobic metabolism in eukaryotes. A surprising development has been that free-living unicellular algae capable of photoautotrophic lifestyle are, in terms of their enzymatic repertoire, among the best equipped eukaryotes known when it comes to anaerobic energy metabolism. Some of these algae are marine organisms, common in the oceans, others are more typically soil inhabitants. All these species are important from the ecological (O2/CO2 budget), biotechnological, and evolutionary perspectives. In the unicellular algae surveyed here, mixed-acid type fermentations are widespread while anaerobic respiration, which is more typical of eukaryotic heterotrophs, appears to be rare. The presence of a core anaerobic metabolism among the algae provides insights into its evolutionary origin, which traces to the eukaryote common ancestor. The predicted fermentative enzymes often exhibit an amino acid extension at the N-terminus, suggesting that these proteins might be compartmentalized in the cell, likely in the chloroplast or the mitochondrion. The green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Chlorella NC64 have the most extended set of fermentative enzymes reported so far. Among the eukaryotes with secondary plastids, the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana has the most pronounced anaerobic capabilities as yet. From the standpoints of genomic, transcriptomic, and biochemical studies, anaerobic energy metabolism in C. reinhardtii remains the best characterized among photosynthetic protists. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The evolutionary aspects of bioenergetic systems.

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BBA - Bioenergetics
Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Atteia, A, van Lis, R, Tielens, A.G.M, & Martin, W. (2013). Anaerobic energy metabolism in unicellular photosynthetic eukaryotes. BBA - Bioenergetics (Vol. 1827, pp. 210–223). doi:10.1016/j.bbabio.2012.08.002