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Evolutionary history has shown that a mutualistic endosymbiotic relationship between two organisms can improve the efficiency of a single cell or a multicellular organism. Here we report an easily-established mutualistic association between a photosynthetic green alga and human-derived cells. Cultured human retinal epithelial (RE) cells, fibroblasts, keratinocytes and HeLA cells all selectively took up the alga Nannochloris eukaryotum, but mouse-derived liver and spleen cells did not. In contrast, ten other species of algae tested did not form spontaneous intracellular associations with mammalian cells. N. eukaryotum was harmless to its mammalian host cells and maintained the ability to replicate. Moreover, human RE cells containing N. eukaryotum subjected to nutrient depletion survived better than RE cells without N. eukaryotum. The engulfment of a eukaryotic alga into human cells represents a unique association, with implications for the construction of an intracellular symbiont pre-programmed to express recombinant human proteins.
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Black, Cara Katherine, "Towards a Human-Algal Endosymbiosis" (2013). Senior Projects Spring 2013. 124.