Microbial rhodopsins are major contributors to the solar energy captured in the sea

Laura Gomez-Consarnau, John A. Raven, Naomi M. Levine, Lynda S. Cutter, Deli Wang, Brian Seegers, Javier Aristegui, Jed A. Fuhrman, Josep M. Gasol, Sergio A. Sanudo-Wilhelmy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


All known phototrophic metabolisms on Earth rely on one of three categories of energy-converting pigments: chlorophyll-a (rarely -d), bacteriochlorophyll-a (rarely -b), and retinal, which is the chromophore in rhodopsins. While the significance of chlorophylls in solar energy capture has been studied for decades, the contribution of retinal-based phototrophy to this process remains largely unexplored. We report the first vertical distributions of the three energy-converting pigments measured along a contrasting nutrient gradient through the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The highest rhodopsin concentrations were observed above the deep chlorophyll-a maxima, and their geographical distribution tended to be inversely related to that of chlorophyll-a. We further show that proton-pumping proteorhodopsins potentially absorb as much light energy as chlorophyll-a-based phototrophy and that this energy is sufficient to sustain bacterial basal metabolism.This suggests that proteorhodopsins are a major energy-transducing mechanism to harvest solar energy in the surface ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereaaw8855
Number of pages7
JournalScience Advances
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2019


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