A high-throughput assay for quantifying phenotypic traits of microalgae

Phoebe A. Argyle, Jana Hinners, Nathan G. Walworth, Sinead Collins, Naomi M. Levine, Martina A. Doblin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

High-throughput methods for phenotyping microalgae are in demand across a variety of research and commercial purposes. Many microalgae can be readily cultivated in multi-well plates for experimental studies which can reduce overall costs, while measuring traits from low volume samples can reduce handling. Here we develop a high-throughput quantitative phenotypic assay (QPA) that can be used to phenotype microalgae grown in multi-well plates. The QPA integrates 10 low-volume, relatively high-throughput trait measurements (growth rate, cell size, granularity, chlorophyll a, neutral lipid content, silicification, reactive oxygen species accumulation, and photophysiology parameters: ETRmax, Ik, and alpha) into one workflow. We demonstrate the utility of the QPA on Thalassiosira spp., a cosmopolitan marine diatom, phenotyping six strains in a standard nutrient rich environment (f/2 media) using the full 10-trait assay. The multivariate phenotypes of strains can be simplified into two dimensions using principal component analysis, generating a trait-scape. We determine that traits show a consistent pattern when grown in small volume compared to more typical large volumes. The QPA can thus be used for quantifying traits across different growth environments without requiring exhaustive large-scale culturing experiments, which facilitates experiments on trait plasticity. We confirm that this assay can be used to phenotype newly isolated diatom strains within 4 weeks of isolation. The QPA described here is highly amenable to customisation for other traits or unicellular taxa and provides a framework for designing high-throughput experiments. This method will have applications in experimental evolution, modelling, and for commercial applications where screening of phytoplankton traits is of high importance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number706235
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • biogeochemical cycles
  • climate modelling
  • diatoms
  • high-throughput approaches
  • microalgae
  • phenomics
  • trait-based approaches


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