Secretory cells store high concentrations of active chemicals in their vesicles by "caging" them in a gel matrix, as Verdugo's lab discovered more than a decade ago. This trick offers a clever thermodynamic advantage as storage across membrane-lined vesicles would otherwise require large amounts of osmotic work. According to the researchers, these microscopic gels found inside virtually all secretory vesicles remain in a condensed gel phase with their cargo virtually immobilized until they are released from the cell, when they undergo drastic swelling and release their payload. "Swelling results from a polymer gel phase transition, a characteristic property of both natural and synthetic polymer gels, which has been further applied in our lab to engineer high payload drug delivery vesicles," said Verdugo.
The cargo in phytoplankton vesicles are toxins. They are caged in a gel matrix made up of a biopolymer very similar to alginate, one of the constituents of algae cell walls. The researchers discovered that phytoplankton release their toxin-loaded gels when exposed to sunlight, particularly the blue portion of the spectrum.
"We do not know why phytoplankton respond to blue light, but it might be associated with the fact that blue light penetrates deeper in seawater," said Verdugo. "Often, plants and animals release toxins as a defense mechanism. Whether this is the case in phytoplankton remains speculative. However, blue light stimulation implies that these cells must have a photoreceptor most likely associated with the cell structures known as chloroplasts, which are responsible for photosynthesis. This is in fact one of the riddles we'll tackle next."
These observations support the notion that Karenia brevis functions as a typical secretory cell, which the researchers believe opens the way to a better understanding of red tide bloom dynam
|Contact: Ellen R. Weiss|
American Institute of Physics