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Open Access Research

Physiological and morphological responses of Lead or Cadmium exposed Chlorella sorokiniana 211-8K (Chlorophyceae)

Simona Carfagna1, Nicola Lanza1, Giovanna Salbitani1, Adriana Basile1, Sergio Sorbo2 and Vincenza Vona1*

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Napoli Federico II, Via Foria 223, Naples, I-80139, Italy

2 CISME, Università di Napoli Federico II, Via Foria 223, Naples, I-80139 , Italy

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SpringerPlus 2013, 2:147  doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-147

Published: 8 April 2013


The heavy metal pollution in soils and aquatic environments is a serious ecological problem. In the green-microalga Chlorella sorokiniana 211-8K (Chlorophyceae) exposed to ions of lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) we studied the metabolic responses to the toxicity of these two heavy metals. Our data indicate that both the pollutants alter the alga cell ultrastructure and its physiological characteristics (growth, photosynthesis, respiration, enzyme activities). The toxic effects of the two metals resulted time-dependent to the exposure. After 24 h of treatment with 250 μM Pb or Cd, photosynthesis was inhibited until to 77 and 86%, however respiration was strongly enhanced up to 300 and 350%, respectively. In the algal cells Pb or Cd exposure induced a reduction in the content of the total chlorophylls and a decrease of the soluble protein levels, significantly compromising the growth, particularly in cultures cadmium-treated. We report data on ultrastructural changes induced by the two heavy metals; they affected overall chloroplast ultrastructure of the alga. Most importantly, the O-acetyl-L-serine(thiol)lyase (OASTL) activity was appreciably increased after only 2 h of Cd exposure, indicating the existence of a link between the metal contamination and cysteine synthesis. Then, Chlorella sorokiniana cells seem to better tolerate high concentrations of Pb while appear to be more sensitive to Cd ions. These results provide some additional information that can lead to better understand consequences of heavy metal poisoning in microalgae.

Chlorella sorokiniana; Heavy metals; OASTL activity; Photosynthesis; Respiration; TEM