The impact of organic pollutants on oceanic ecosystem functioning is largely unknown. Prochlorococcus, the most abundant known photosynthetic organism on Earth, has been suggested to be especially sensible to exposure to organic pollutants, but the sub-lethal effects of organic pollutants on its photosynthetic function at environmentally relevant concentrations and mixtures remain unexplored. Here we show the modulation of the expression of two photosynthetic genes, rbcL (RuBisCO large subunit) and psbA (PSII D1 protein), of oceanic populations of Prochlorococcus from the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans when exposed to mixtures of organic pollutants consisting of the non-polar fraction of a seawater extract. This mixture included most persistent organic pollutants, semivolatile aromatic-like compounds, and the unresolved complex mixture of hydrocarbons. Prochlorococcus populations in the controls showed the expected diel cycle variations in expression of photosynthetic genes. However, exposure to a complex mixture at concentrations only 2-fold above the environmental levels resulted in a decrease of expression of both genes, suggesting an effect on the photosynthetic function. While organic pollutant effects on marine phytoplankton have been already demonstrated at the cellular level, this is the first field study showing alterations at the molecular level of the photosynthetic function due to organic pollutants.
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