Direct measurement of release and assimilation of ammonia in the Gunnera-Nostoc symbiosis

Warwick B. Silvester, Richard Parsons, Peter W. Watt

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In Gunnera, Nostoc cells invade secretory tissue forming well defined symbiotic areas within the stems and are termed internal nodules (Silvester, 1976). Excised, but intact, internal stem Nostoc nodules taken from Gunnera magellanica show light-stimulated nitrogenase activity and release a small, but measurable, proportion of their current N2 fixation as NH3 into the external solution. When nodules are disrupted and Nostoc extracted anaerobically, 90% or more of the estimated N2 fixation is released from the Nostoc cells as NH3 into the surrounding medium. Use of 15N2 confirmed that only 12 % of N2 fixed is retained within the cells of Nostoc. The remaining 88 % was identified as NH3 released outside the cells. Within the intact nodule system, 15N2 uptake showed that 2-5 % of recently fixed N2 remains within the Nostoc cells and up to 30% of extracellular N is in asparagine after 1 h. Evidence is presented that stimulation of nitrogenase by light in the intact Gunnera/Nostoc system produces more NH3 than can be assimilated by the host cells, resulting in significant NH3 accumulation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)617-625
    Number of pages9
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1996


    • Ammonia
    • Asparagine
    • Gunnera
    • N fixation
    • Nostoc


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