Cell-specific beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase activity in cultures and field populations of eukaryotic marine phytoplankton. Academic Article uri icon


  • It is widely appreciated that eukaryotic marine phytoplankton can hydrolyze a variety of compounds within the dissolved organic matter (DOM) pool in marine environments. Herein, cultures and field populations of marine phytoplankton were assayed for beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase activity, a terminal enzyme of chitin degradation. A traditional bulk assay, which can assess hydrolytic rate, but is not cell-specific, was complemented with a cell-specific assay that images the activity associated with single cells using an enzyme labeled fluorescence (ELF) substrate. beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase activity was widespread across various taxa of marine phytoplankton, and activity was observed both under controlled culture conditions and in field populations. The number of cells with enzyme activity varied with the nutritional physiology of the test species in three of the 17 cultures tested. In these three cases the number of cells with activity in the low nutrient medium was higher than in nutrient replete medium. Taken together, these data suggest that a broad group of marine phytoplankton may be a relevant part of chitin-like DOM degradation and should be incorporated into conceptual models of chitin cycling in marine systems.

publication date

  • June 2008