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Abstract

Planktonic, prokaryotic, and eukaryotic photoautotrophs (phytoplankton) share a diverse and ancient evolutionary history, during which time they have played key roles in regulating marine food webs, biogeochemical cycles, and Earth's climate. Because phytoplankton represent the basis of marine ecosystems, the manner in which they die critically determines the flow and fate of photosynthetically fixed organic matter (and associated elements), ultimately constraining upper-ocean biogeochemistry. Programmed cell death (PCD) and associated pathway genes, which are triggered by a variety of nutrient stressors and are employed by parasitic viruses, play an integral role in determining the cell fate of diverse photoautotrophs in the modern ocean. Indeed, these multifaceted death pathways continue to shape the success and evolutionary trajectory of diverse phytoplankton lineages at sea. Research over the past two decades has employed physiological, biochemical, and genetic techniques to provide a novel, comprehensive, mechanistic understanding of the factors controlling this key process. Here, I discuss the current understanding of the genetics, activation, and regulation of PCD pathways in marine model systems; how PCD evolved in unicellular photoautotrophs; how it mechanistically interfaces with viral infection pathways; how stress signals are sensed and transduced into cellular responses; and how novel molecular and biochemical tools are revealing the impact of PCD genes on the fate of natural phytoplankton assemblages.

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2015-01-03
2024-06-18
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