Iron is essential for all life, but it is particularly important to photoautotrophs because of the many iron-dependent electron transport components in photosynthetic membranes. Since the proliferation of oxygenic photosynthesis in the Archean ocean, iron has been a scarce commodity, and it is now recognized as a limiting resource for phytoplankton over broad expanses of the open ocean and even in some coastal/continental shelf waters. Iron stress does not impair photochemical or carbon fixation efficiencies, and in this respect it resembles the highly tuned photosynthetic systems of steady-state macronutrient-limited phytoplankton. However, iron stress does present unique photophysiological challenges, and phytoplankton have responded to these challenges through major architectural changes in photosynthetic membranes. These evolved responses include overexpression of photosynthetic pigments and iron-economic pathways for ATP synthesis, and they result in diagnostic fluorescence properties that allow a broad appraisal of iron stress in the field and even the detection of iron stress from space.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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