Low ambient concentrations of trace metals including Zn may limit phytoplankton productivity in the North American Great Lakes. The microalgae Chlorella sp. UTCC 522 (Chlorophyta) and Cyclotella sp. UTCC 520 (Heterokontophyta), indigenous to the Great Lakes, were assayed for their Zn requirement and the ability for Co and Cd to metabolically substitute for Zn under conditions in which Zn bioavailability was limiting cell growth. Bioassays were conducted in the laboratory using chemically defined media and the metal buffer EDTA to control the free-ion concentrations of Zn2 (10−15.3–10−10 mol/L), Cd2 (10−15.1–10−10 mol/L), and Co2 (10−14–10−10 mol/L). Influence of the metals on the phytoplankton was measured by the effect on specific growth rate. Both microalgae required Zn and could use Co and Cd as Zn substitutes; Cd was used less-effectively, although to a greater extent by the diatom Cyclotella than by the chlorophyte, Chlorella. The observed ability of the phytoplankton to use Cd and Co as Zn substitutes suggests that microalgae play an important role in the geochemical cycling of Zn, Cd and Co in large lakes, and the mobilization of Cd in lake ecosystems impacted by pollution.
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