Although the iron uptake and storage mechanisms of terrestrial/higher plants have been well studied, the corresponding systems in marine algae have received far less attention. Studies have shown that while some species of unicellular algae utilize unique mechanisms of iron uptake, many acquire iron through the same general mechanisms as higher plants. In contrast, the iron acquisition strategies of the multicellular macroalgae remain largely unknown. This is especially surprising since many of these organisms represent important ecological and evolutionary niches in the coastal marine environment. It has been well established in both laboratory and environmentally derived samples, that a large amount of iron can be ‘non-specifically’ adsorbed to the surface of marine algae. While this phenomenon is widely recognized and has prompted the development of experimental protocols to eliminate its contribution to iron uptake studies, its potential biological significance as a concentrated iron source for marine algae is only now being recognized. This study used an interdisciplinary array of techniques to explore the nature of the extensive and powerful iron binding on the surface of both laboratory and environmental samples of the marine brown alga Ectocarpus siliculosus and shows that some of this surface-bound iron is eventually internalized. It is proposed that the surface-binding properties of E. siliculosus allow it to function as a quasibiological metal ion ‘buffer’, allowing iron uptake under the widely varying external iron concentrations found in coastal marine environments.
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