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Toxic effects of selenite and selenate on marine microalgae : a physiological and ultrastructural study Wong, Donald Chun Kit


Seven species of marine phytoplankters assigned to different taxonomic divisions were tested for toxic responses to two different molecular species of selenium known to be prevalent in seawater, selenite and selenate. Selenate proved to be more toxic than selenite, although severe toxicity was only observed at high concentrations (10⁻² and 10⁻³ M) of both selenate and selenite. At these concentrations, growth was completely or severely inhibited in most species tested. In some of the species that remained viable, both the percentage of motile cells and their swimming speed were drastically reduced. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that, under these circumstances, Dunaliella tertiolecta cells possessed much shorter flagella compared to the controls, while those that became non-motile lacked flagella altogether. Despite these striking alterations in both growth and morphology, cells of Amphidinium carterae, Dunaliella tertiolecta and Pavlova lutheri showed, after prolonged exposures, signs of adaptation to high selenium concentrations. Lower concentrations of selenium were generally non-toxic and frequently even stimulatory to growth. These observations suggest that for meaningful inferences on selenium toxicity both the concentration range and the length of the studies must be considered and the potential for adaptation to high selenium concentrations taken into consideration. The main ultrastructural and physiological changes in cells of Dunaliella tertiolecta, Pavlova lutheri and Amphidinium carterae treated with selenite or selenate involved the cell coat, mitochondria, chloroplasts as well as the respiratory and photosynthetic rates. Other changes were observed in the nucleus, lipids, vacuoles, nitrogen and carbon contents, but these showed greater variability among the microalgae studied. The major alterations suggested that energy transducing systems were severely affected by selenium toxicity. These led to significant decreases or even elimination of storage products which were indicative of severe shortage in energy and produced major reductions in growth. These occurred later upon exposure to the toxicant and coincided with the loss of cell coat material, suggesting that the shedding of cell surface material might play a major role in the detoxification and adaptation of the microalgae to toxic concentrations of selenium.

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