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Mitochondrial carbonic anhydrases are needed for optimal photosynthesis at low CO2 levels in Chlamydomonas

Ashwani Rai, Timothy Chen, Jim Moroney


Chlamydomonas reinhardtii can grow photosynthetically using CO2 or in the dark using acetate as the carbon source. In the light in air, the CO2 concentrating mechanism (CCM) of C. reinhardtii accumulates CO2, enhancing photosynthesis. A combination of carbonic anhydrases (CAs) and bicarbonate transporters in the CCM of C. reinhardtii increases the CO2 concentration at Ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase (Rubisco) in the chloroplast pyrenoid. Previously, CAs important to the CCM have been found in the periplasmic space, surrounding the pyrenoid and inside the thylakoid lumen. Two almost identical mitochondrial CAs, CAH4 and CAH5, are also highly expressed when the CCM is made, but their role in the CCM is not understood. Here, we adopted an RNAi approach to reduce the expression of CAH4 and CAH5 to study their possible physiological functions. RNAi mutants with low expression of CAH4 and CAH5 had impaired rates of photosynthesis under ambient levels of CO2 (0.04% CO2 [v/v] in air). These strains were not able to grow at very low CO2 (<0.02% CO2 [v/v] in air), and their ability to accumulate inorganic carbon (Ci = CO2 + HCO3−⁠) was reduced. At low CO2 concentrations, the CCM is needed to both deliver Ci to Rubisco and to minimize the leak of CO2 generated by respiration and photorespiration. We hypothesize that CAH4 and CAH5 in the mitochondria convert the CO2 released from respiration and photorespiration as well as the CO2 leaked from the chloroplast to HCO3- thus “recapturing” this potentially lost CO2.

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