Symbiosis extended: exchange of photosynthetic O2 and fungal-respired CO2 mutually power metabolism of lichen symbionts

Marie-claire ten Veldhuis, Gennady Ananyev, Charles Dismukes

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Lichens are a symbiosis between a fungus and one or more photosynthetic microorganisms that enables the symbionts to thrive in places and conditions they could not compete independently. Exchanges of water and sugars between the symbionts are the established mechanisms that support lichen symbiosis. Herein, we present a new linkage between algal photosynthesis and fungal respiration in lichen Flavoparmelia caperata that extends the physiological nature of symbiotic co-dependent metabolisms, mutually boosting energy conversion rates in both symbionts. Measurements of electron transport by oximetry show that photosynthetic O2 is consumed internally by fungal respiration. At low light intensity, very low levels of O2 are released, while photosynthetic electron transport from water oxidation is normal as shown by intrinsic chlorophyll variable fluorescence yield (period-4 oscillations in flash-induced Fv/Fm). The rate of algal O2 production increases following consecutive series of illumination periods, at low and with limited saturation at high light intensities, in contrast to light saturation in free-living algae. We attribute this effect to arise from the availability of more CO2 produced by fungal respiration of photosynthetically generated sugars. We conclude that the lichen symbionts are metabolically coupled by energy conversion through exchange of terminal electron donors and acceptors used in both photosynthesis and fungal respiration. Algal sugars and O2 are consumed by the fungal symbiont, while fungal delivered CO2 is consumed by the alga.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-299
Number of pages13
JournalPhotosynthesis Research: Official Journal of the International Society of Photosynthesis Research
Volume143 (2020)
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Algae
  • Fungi
  • Lichens
  • Metabolism
  • Oxygenic photosynthesis
  • Respiration
  • Symbiosis


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