Mixotrophic protists, i.e. protists that can carry out both phototrophy and heterotrophy, are a group of organisms with a wide range of nutritional strategies. The ecological and biogeochemical importance of these species has recently been recognized. In this study, we investigated and compared the gene expression of three mixotrophic protists, Prymnesium parvum, Dinobyron sp. and Ochromonas sp. under light and dark conditions in the presence of prey using RNA-Seq. Gene expression of the obligately phototrophic P. parvum and Dinobryon sp. changed significantly between light and dark treatments, while that of primarily heterotrophic Ochromonas sp. was largely unchanged. Gene expression of P. parvum and Dinobryon sp. shared many similarities, especially in the expression patterns of genes related to reproduction. However, key genes involved in central carbon metabolism and phagotrophy had different expression patterns between these two species, suggesting differences in prey consumption and heterotrophic nutrition in the dark. Transcriptomic data also offered clues to other physiological traits of these organisms such as preference of nitrogen sources and photo-oxidative stress. These results provide potential target genes for further exploration of the mechanisms of mixotrophic physiology and demonstrate the potential usefulness of molecular approaches in characterizing the nutritional modes of mixotrophic protists.
One sentence summary: Transcriptomes of three mixotrophic protists under light and dark conditions reveal differences among protists with various nutritional strategies.