Characterization of urease activity in three marine phytoplankton species, Aureococcus anophagefferens, Prorocentrum minimum, and Thalassiosira weissflogii

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Marine Biology

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Date Added



The availability of different forms of nitrogen in coastal and estuarine waters may be important in determining the abundance and productivity of different phytoplankton species. Although urea has been shown to contribute as much as 50% of the nitrogen for phytoplankton nutrition, relatively little is known of the activity and expression of urease in phytoplankton. Using an in vitro enzyme assay, urease activities were examined in laboratory cultures of three species: Aureococcus anophagefferens Hargraves et Sieburth, Prorocentrum minimum (Pavillard) Schiller, and Thalassiosira weissflogii (Grunow) Fryxell et Hasle. Cultures of P. minimum and T. weissflogii were grown on three nitrogen sources (NO3 −, NH4 +, and urea), while A. anophagefferens was grown only on NO3 − and urea. Urease was found to be constitutive in all cultures, but activity varied with growth rate and assay temperature for the different cultures. For A. anophagefferens, urease activity varied positively with growth rate regardless of the N source, while for P. minimum, urease activity varied positively with growth rate only for cultures grown on urea and NH4 +. In contrast, for T. weissflogii, activity did not vary with growth rate for any of the N sources. For all species, urease activity increased with assay temperature, but with different apparent temperature optima. For A. anophagefferens, in vitro activity increased from near 0–30°C, and remained stable to 50°C, while for P. minimum, increased in vitro activity was noted from near 0–20°C, but constant activity was observed between 20°C and 50°C. For T. weissfloggii, while activity also increased from 0°C to 20°C, subsequent decreases were noted when temperature was elevated above 20°C. Urease activity had a half-saturation constant of 120–165 μg atom N l−1 in all three species. On both an hourly and daily basis, urease activity in A. anophagefferens exceeded nitrogen demand for growth. In P. minimum, urease activity on an hourly basis matched the nitrogen demand, but was less than the demand on a daily basis. For T. weissflogii, urease activity was always less than the nitrogen demand. These patterns in urease activity in three different species demonstrate that while apparently constitutive, the regulation of activity was substantially different in the diatom. These differences in the physiological regulation of urease activity, as well as other enzymes, may play a role in their ecological success in different environments.