Acquired phototrophy in Mesodinium and Dinophysis – A review of cellular organization, prey selectivity, nutrient uptake and bioenergetics

Per Juel Hansen, Lasse Tor Nielsen, Matthew Johnson, Terje Berge, Kevin J. Flynn

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Acquired phototrophy, i.e. the use of chloroplasts from ingested prey, can be found among some species of dinoflagellates and ciliates. The best studied examples of this phenomenon in these groups are within the ciliate genus Mesodinium and the dinoflagellate genus Dinophysis, both ecologically important genera with a worldwide distribution. Mesodinium species differ considerably in their carbon metabolism. Some species rely almost exclusively on food uptake, while other species rely mostly on photosynthesis. In Mesodinium with acquired phototrophy, a number of prey organelles in addition to chloroplasts may be retained, and the host ciliate has considerable control over the acquired chloroplasts; Mesodinium rubrum is capable of dividing its acquired chloroplasts and can also photoacclimate. In Dinophysis spp., the contents of ciliate prey are sucked out, but only the chloroplasts are retained from the ingested prey. Some chloroplast house-keeping genes have been found in the nucleus of Dinophysis and some preliminary evidence suggests that Dinophysis may be capable for photoacclimation. Both genera have been claimed to take up inorganic nutrients, including NO3−, indicating that processes beyond photosynthesis have been acquired. M. rubrum seems to depend upon prey species within the Teleaulax/Plagioselmis/Geminigera clade of marine cryptophytes. Up until now, Dinophysis species have only been maintained cultured on M. rubrum as food, but other ciliates may also be ingested. Dinophysis spp. and M. rubrum are obligate mixotrophs, depending upon both prey and light for sustained growth. However, while M. rubrum only needs to ingest 1–2% of its carbon demand per day to attain maximum growth, Dinophysis spp. need to obtain about half of their carbon demand from ingestion for maximum growth. Both Mesodinium and Dinophysis spp. can survive for months in the light without food. The potential role for modeling in exploring the complex balance of phototrophy and phago-heterotrophy, and its ecological implications for the mixotroph and their prey, is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHarmful Algae
Pages (from-to)126-139
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Acquired phototrophy
  • Ciliates
  • Dinoflagellates
  • Mixotrophy
  • Symbiosis


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