Algal signalling and physiology

Marine phytoplankton must constantly sense and respond to their dynamic environment in order to survive

We are interested in the cellular mechanisms in marine phytoplankton that underpin and drive global biogeochemical cycles.

Using a combination of genomic and physiological techniques, we study how algae sense and respond to their environment.

Much of our research uses single cell microscopy approaches to directly visualise signalling processes. Some examples are shown below.

Phytoplankton cells differ considerably in cell size. This is particularly true of the marine diatoms, which can differ in diameter from a few micrometers up to huge cells or several hundred micrometers. Cell size has a major impact on the ability of cells to acquire nutrients, with large cells surrounded by a substantial diffusion boundary layer. The microenvironment around cells, termed the ’phycosphere’, likely plays an important role in the physiology of phytoplankton and their interactions with other marine microbes.

We have been studying the effect of cell size on the uptake of carbon by marine diatoms. Marine diatoms, like all phytoplankton, operate a carbon concentrating mechanism (CCM) to overcome limitations in the diffusive supply of CO2 to the cell surface. As limitations to the supply of CO2 are greater in large cells (due to their diffusive boundary layer), these processes may directly influence the composition of diatom communities. We have recently developed ion selective microelectrodes to allow us to measure carbonate chemistry at the surface of individual diatom cells for the first time (Chrachri et al 2018). These novel approaches will allow us to address some of the major uncertainties relating to carbon acquisition in diatoms and better understand how these constraints influence diatom community composition.


Staff List

Glen Wheeler
Senior Research Fellow
Glen is a molecular cell biologist studying the physiology of marine phytoplankton and other algae.
Email: Telephone Number:
+44 (0)1752 426586
Gerald Langer
Research Associate
Gerald is interested in calcification of marine organisms, including the fundamental processes of calcification and its sensitivity to environmental factors such as temperature, nutrient availability and seawater carbonate chemistry.
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426360
Dorothee Kottmeier
Post Doctoral Researcher

Dorothee is a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Brownlee's group investigating single cell physiology of coccolithophores and diatoms.

Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 968703
Abdesslam Chrachri
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Abdul re-joined the MBA in 2007 and is working in various projects focusing on the cell biology of diatoms and coccolithophores, two of the most significant groups of phytoplankton with respect to ocean primary productivity and marine biogeochemical cyc

Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426541
Susan Wharam
Research Assistant

Susie Wharam is a Molecular Biology Technician, within the Cellular and Molecular group.

Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426541
Serena Flori
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Serena Flori finished her PhD in the Cell & Plant Physiology Laboratory in Grenoble (France) in the frame of an ITN Marie Curie called AccliPhot.
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 968703
Friedrich Kleiner
PhD Student
Friedrich studied Biology at the Martin-Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg with the focus on insect and plant physiology.
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426240
Jack Dickenson
PhD Student

Jack is a PhD ('Cell signalling in Marine Phytoplankton in response to Environmental Stimuli') student , under the guidance of Professor Colin Brownlee (MBA), Dr Glen Wheeler (MBA) and Professor Mark Moore (Southampton).

Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426240
Andrea Highfield
Post Doctoral Researcher
Andrea is a postdoctoral researcher working within the Cellular and Molecular group at the MBA.
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1742 968638
Jade Hunt
Research Assistant
Jade graduated from Exeter University with a 2:1 in Bsc (Hons) Biosciences with a specialism in Microbiology and Infectious Disease. Her final year wet lab.
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426257
Theo Hembury
Research Technician
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426257
Daniela Sturm
PhD Student
Daniela is a PhD student, under the guidance of Dr Glen Wheeler (MBA), Professor Colin Brownlee (MBA), and Professor Toby Tyrell (University of Southampton).
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 968707
Joost deVries
PhD Student
Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 968707

  • Helliwell KE, Chrachri A, Koester J, Wharam S, Verret F, Taylor AR, Wheeler GL, and Brownlee C. (2019). Alternative mechanisms for fast Na+/Ca2+ signalling in eukaryotes via a novel class of single-domain voltage-gated channels. Current Biology. 29 (9), 1503-1511.
  • Cooper MB, Kazamia E, Helliwell KE, Kudahl UJ, Sayer A, Wheeler, GL, & Smith AG. (2018). Cross-exchange of B-vitamins underpins a mutualistic interaction between Ostreococcus tauri and Dinoroseobacter shibae.  ISME J.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-018-0274-y
  • Walker CE, Heath S, Salmon DL, Smirnoff N, Langer G, Taylor AR, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL (2018). An Extracellular Polysaccharide-Rich Organic Layer Contributes to Organization of the Coccosphere in Coccolithophores. Front. Mar. Sci., doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2018.00306.
  • Walker CE, Taylor AR, Langer G, Durak GM, Heath S, Probert I, Tyrrell T, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL (2018). The requirement for calcification differs between ecologically important coccolithophore species. New Phytol. doi: 10.1111/nph.15272.
  • Wheeler, G; Helliwell, KE; Brownlee, C (2018). Calcium signalling in algae. Perspectives in Phycology. doi: 10.1127/pip/2018/0082.
  • Chrachri A, Hopkinson BM, Flynn K, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL (2018) Dynamic changes in carbonate chemistry in the microenvironment around single marine phytoplankton cells. Nature Commun. 9:74
  • Durak GM, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL. (2017) The role of the cytoskeleton in biomineralisation in haptophyte algae. Sci. Reports. 7, 15409.
  • Brawley SH, Blouin NA, Ficko-Blean E, Wheeler GL, et al. (2017). Insights into the red algae and eukaryotic evolution from the genome of Porphyra umbilicalis (Bangiophyceae, Rhodophyta). PNAS. 114 (31):E6361–E6370.
  • Taylor AR, Brownlee C, Wheeler G (2017) Coccolithophore cell biology: chalking up progress. Ann Rev Mar Sci. 9:18.1–18.28.​
  • Marron AO, Ratcliffe S, Wheeler GL, Goldstein RE, King N, Not F, de Vargas C, Richter DJ. (2016). The evolution of silicon transport in eukaryotes. Mol Biol Evol. 33(12):3226-3248.
  • Bickerton P, Sello S, Brownlee C, Pittman JK, Wheeler GL. (2016). Spatial and temporal specificity of Ca2+ signalling in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in response to osmotic stress. New Phytol. 2016. doi: 10.1111/nph.14128.
  • Flynn KJ, Clark DR, Wheeler G. (2016). The role of coccolithophore calcification in bioengineering their environment. Proc Biol Sci. 283(1833). pii: 20161099.
  • Durak GM, Taylor AR, Walker CE, Probert I, de Vargas C, Audic S, Schroeder D, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL. (2016). A role for diatom-like silicon transporters in calcifying coccolithophores. Nature Commun. 7:10543.
  • Brownlee C, Wheeler GL, Taylor AR. (2015) Coccolithophore biomineralization: New questions, new answers. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 46:11-6.
  • Wheeler G, Ishikawa T, Pornsaksit V, Smirnoff N. (2015). Evolution of alternative biosynthetic pathways for vitamin C following plastid acquisition in photosynthetic eukaryotes. eLife 4:e06369.
  • Flynn KJ, Clark DR, Mitra A, Fabian H, Hansen PJ, Glibert PM, Wheeler GL, Stoecker DK, Blackford JC, Brownlee C. (2015). Ocean acidification with (de)eutrophication will alter future phytoplankton growth and succession. Proc Biol Sci. 282(1804):20142604.
  • Helliwell K. E., Collins S. Kazamia E. Purton S. Wheeler G. L. and Smith A.G. (2014). Fundamental shift in vitamin B12 eco-physiology of a model alga demonstrated by experimental evolution. The ISME Journal. 9(6):1446-55.
  • Keeling PJ, Burki F, Wilcox HM, Allam B, Allen EE, …Wheeler G… et al. (2014) The Marine Microbial Eukaryote Transcriptome Sequencing Project (MMETSP): Illuminating the Functional Diversity of Eukaryotic Life in the Oceans through Transcriptome Sequencing. PLoS Biology 12(6): e1001889
  • Collingridge P, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL. (2013) Compartmentalised calcium signalling in cilia regulates intraflagellar transport. Current Biology 23(22):2311-8
  • Read BA, Kegel J, Klute MJ, Kuo A, Lefebvre SC, Maumus F, Mayer C, Miller J, Monier A, Salamov A, Young J, Aguilar M, Claverie JM, Frickenhaus S, Gonzalez K, Herman EK, Lin YC, Napier J, Ogata H, Sarno AF, Shmutz J, Schroeder D, de Vargas C, Verret F, von Dassow P, Valentin K, Van de Peer Y, Wheeler G; Emiliania huxleyi Annotation Consortium, Dacks JB, Delwiche CF, Dyhrman ST, Glöckner G, John U, Richards T, Worden AZ, Zhang X, Grigoriev IV. (2013) Pan genome of the phytoplankton Emiliania underpins its global distribution. Nature. 499(7457), 209-13.
  • Helliwell KE, Wheeler GL, Smith AG. (2013). Widespread decay of vitamin-related pathways: coincidence or consequence?  Trends Genetics. 29(8):469-78.
  • Bach LT, Mackinder L, Schulz K, Wheeler GL, Schroeder DC, Brownlee C, Riebesell U. (2013) Dissecting the impact of CO2 and pH on the mechanisms of photosynthesis and calcification in the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyiNew Phytologist. 199(1):121-34.
  • Flynn KJ, Blackford JC, Baird ME, Raven JA, Clark DR, Beardall J, Brownlee C, Fabian H, Wheeler GL. (2012) Changes in pH at the exterior surface of plankton with ocean acidification. Nature Climate Change. 2, 510-513
  • Chan CX, Zäuner S, Wheeler G, Grossman AR, Prochnik SE, Blouin NA, Zhuang Y, Benning C, Berg GM, Yarish C, Eriksen RL, Klein AS, Lin S, Levine I, Brawley SH, Bhattacharya D (2012). Analysis of Porphyra membrane transporters demonstrates gene transfer among photosynthetic eukaryotes and numerous sodium-coupled transport systems. Plant Physiol. 158(4):2001-12.
  • Taylor AR, Brownlee C, Wheeler GL. (2012). Proton channels in algae: reasons to be excited. Trends Plant Sci. 17(11):675-84.
  • Crawfurd KJ, Raven J, Wheeler GL, Baxter E, Joint I (2011). The response of Thalassiosira pseudonana to long-term exposure to increased CO2 and decreased pH. PLOS One. 6(10):e26695
  • Mackinder L, Wheeler GL, Schroeder DS, Von Dassow P, Riebesell U, Brownlee C. (2013) Expression of biomineralisation related ion transport genes in Emiliania huxleyiEnv Microbiol. 13(12):3250-65.
  • Helliwell KE, Wheeler GL, Leptos KC, Goldstein RE and Smith AG. (2011) Insights into the Evolution of Vitamin B12 Auxotrophy from Sequenced Algal Genomes. Mol Biol Evol. 28(10):2921-33.
  • *Taylor AR, *Chrachri A, *Wheeler GL, Goddard H and Brownlee C. A voltage-gated H+ channel underlying pH homeostasis in calcifying coccolithophores. PLOS Biology. 2011. 9(6):e1001085. (* denotes equal contribution).
  • Verret F, Taylor A, Wheeler G, Farnham G, Brownlee C. Calcium channels and their implications for evolution of calcium-based signalling in photosynthetic eukaryotes. New Phytologist. 2010. 187(1), 23-43.
  • Mackinder L, Wheeler G, Schroeder D, Riebesell U, Brownlee C. Molecular mechanisms underlying calcification in coccolithophores. Geomicrobiology. 2010. 27, 585-595.

1998-2009

  • Qudeimat E, Faltusz AM, Wheeler G, Lang D, Brownlee C, Reski R, Frank W. A PIIB-type Ca2+-ATPase is essential for stress adaptation in Physcomitrella patens. PNAS. 2008. 105(49) 19554-19559.
  • Wheeler GL, Brownlee C. Ca2+ signalling in plants and green algae – changing channels. Trends Plant Sci.2008. 13(9):506-14
  • Wheeler GL, Miranda-Saavedra D, Barton GJ. Genome Analysis of the Unicellular Green Alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii Indicates an Ancient Evolutionary Origin for Key Pattern Recognition and Cell-Signaling Protein Families. Genetics. 2008. 179(1):193-7.
  • Wheeler GL, Joint I, Brownlee C. Rapid spatiotemporal patterning of cytosolic Ca2+ underlies flagellar excision in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Plant J. 2008. 53(3):401-13.
  • Thompson SE, Callow JA, Callow ME, Wheeler GL, Taylor AR, Brownlee C. Membrane recycling and calcium dynamics during settlement and adhesion of zoospores of the green alga Ulva linza. Plant Cell Environ. 2007. 30(6):733-44.
  • Joint I, Tait K, Wheeler G. Cross-kingdom signalling: exploitation of bacterial quorum sensing molecules by the green seaweed UlvaPhil Trans R Soc B. 2007. 362(1483):1223-33.
  • Conklin PL, Gatzek S, Wheeler GL, Dowdle J, Raymond MJ, Rolinski S, Isupov M, Littlechild JA, Smirnoff N. Arabidopsis thaliana VTC4 encodes L-galactose-1-P phosphatase, a plant ascorbic acid biosynthetic enzyme. J Biol Chem. 2006. 281(23):15662-70.
  • Bothwell JHF, Brownlee C, Hetherington AM, Ng CK, Wheeler GL, McAinsh MR. Biolistic delivery of Ca2+ dyes into plant and algal cells. Plant J. 2006. 46(2):327-35.
  • Wheeler GL, Tait K, Taylor A, Brownlee C, Joint I. Acyl-homoserine lactones modulate the settlement rate of zoospores of the marine alga Ulva intestinalis via a novel chemokinetic mechanism. Plant Cell Env. 2006. 29(4):608-18.
  • Wheeler GL, Grant CM. Regulation of redox homeostasis in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiaePhysiol. Plant. 2004 120(1):12-20.
  • Wheeler GL, Trotter EW, Dawes IW, Grant CM. Coupling of the transcriptional regulation of glutathione biosynthesis to the availability of glutathione and methionine via the Met4 and Yap1 transcription factors. J Biol Chem. 2003 278(50):49920-8.
  • Wheeler GL, Quinn KA, Perrone G, Dawes IW, Grant CM. Glutathione regulates the expression of gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase via the Met4 transcription factor. Mol Microbiol. 2002. 46(2):545-56.
  • Collinson EJ, Wheeler GL, Garrido EO, Avery AM, Avery SV, Grant CM. The yeast glutaredoxins are active as glutathione peroxidases. J Biol Chem 2002. 277(19):16712-7.
  • Gatzek S, Wheeler GL, Smirnoff N. Antisense suppression of L-galactose dehydrogenase in Arabidopsis thaliana provides evidence for its role in ascorbate synthesis and reveals light modulated L-galactose synthesis. 2002. Plant J. 30(5):541-53.
  • Smirnoff N and Wheeler GL. Ascorbic acid in plants: biosynthesis and function. Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol 2000. 35(4):291-314
  • Conklin PL, Norris SR, Wheeler GL, Williams EH, Smirnoff N and Last RL. Genetic evidence for the role of GDP-mannose in plant ascorbic acid (vitamin C) biosynthesis. PNAS 1999. 96:4198-4203
  • Wheeler GL, Jones MA and Smirnoff N. The biosynthetic pathway of vitamin C in higher plants. Nature 1998. 393:365-369

Book chapters

Downloads

Ca2+ elevations in Chlamydomonas flagella viewed by TIRF microscopy

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Intraflagellar transport in Chlamydomonas during gliding motility

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Cell division in a coccolithophore (Coccolithus braarudii)

Dr Glen Wheeler

The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom,

The Laboratory, Citadel Hill,

Plymouth, Devon,UK.

PL1 2PB

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Telephone: 01752 426586

Email: glw@mba.ac.uk