Chemotaxis increases metabolic exchanges between marine picophytoplankton and heterotrophic bacteria

Jean Baptiste Raina, Marco Giardina, Douglas R. Brumley, Peta L. Clode, Mathieu Pernice, Paul Guagliardo, Jeremy Bougoure, Himasha Mendis, Steven Smriga, Eva C. Sonnenschein, Matthias S. Ullrich, Roman Stocker, Justin R. Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Web of Science)


Behaviours such as chemotaxis can facilitate metabolic exchanges between phytoplankton and heterotrophic bacteria, which ultimately regulate oceanic productivity and biogeochemistry. However, numerically dominant picophytoplankton have been considered too small to be detected by chemotactic bacteria, implying that cell–cell interactions might not be possible between some of the most abundant organisms in the ocean. Here we examined how bacterial behaviour influences metabolic exchanges at the single-cell level between the ubiquitous picophytoplankton Synechococcus and the heterotrophic bacterium Marinobacter adhaerens, using bacterial mutants deficient in motility and chemotaxis. Stable-isotope tracking revealed that chemotaxis increased nitrogen and carbon uptake of both partners by up to 4.4-fold. A mathematical model following thousands of cells confirmed that short periods of exposure to small but nutrient-rich microenvironments surrounding Synechococcus cells provide a considerable competitive advantage to chemotactic bacteria. These findings reveal that transient interactions mediated by chemotaxis can underpin metabolic relationships among the ocean’s most abundant microorganisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-521
Number of pages12
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


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