Three-Dimensional Architecture and Surface Functionality of Coccolith Base Plates

B. Marzec, J.m. Walker, M. Panagopoulou, Y. Jhons, D. Clare, A. Wheeler, M.p. Shaver, F. Nudelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coccolithophores are marine phytoplankton that are among the most prolific calcifiers widespread in Earth’s oceans, playing a crucial role in the carbon cycle and in the transport of organic matter to the deep sea. These organisms produce highly complex mineralized scales that are composed of hierarchical assemblies of nano-crystals of calcium carbonate in the form of calcite. Coccolith formation in vivo occurs within compartmentalized mineralisation vesicles derived from the Golgi body, which contain coccolithassociated polysaccharides (‘CAPs’) providing polymorph selection and mediating crystal growth kinetics, and oval organic mineralisation templates, also known as base plates, which promote heterogenous nucleation and further mechanical interlocking of calcite single crystals. Although the function of coccolith base plates in controlling crystal nucleation have been widely studied, their 3D spatial organization and the chemical functional groups present on the crystal nucleation sites, which are two crucial features impacting biomineralization, remain unsolved. Utilising cryo-electron tomography we show that base plates derived from an exemplary coccolithophore Pleurochrysis carterae (Pcar) in their native hydrated state have a complex 3-layered structure. We further demonstrate, for the first time, the edge and rim of the base plate – where the crystals nucleate - are rich in primary amine functionalities that provide binding targets for negatively charged complexes composed of synthetic macromolecules and Ca2+ ions. Our results indicate that electrostatic interactions between the negatively charged biogenic CAPs and the positively charged rim of the base plate are sufficient to mediate the transport of Ca2+ cations to the mineralization sites.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Early online date19 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Aug 2019


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