Surface colonization allows diatoms, a dominant group of phytoplankton in oceans, to adapt to harsh marine environments while mediating biofoulings to human-made underwater facilities. The regulatory pathways underlying diatom surface colonization, which involves morphotype switching in some species, remain mostly unknown. Here, we describe the identification of 61 signaling genes, including G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and protein kinases, which are differentially regulated during surface colonization in the model diatom species, Phaeodactylum tricornutum. We show that the transformation of P. tricornutum with constructs expressing individual GPCR genes induces cells to adopt the surface colonization morphology. P. tricornutum cells transformed to express GPCR1A display 30% more resistance to UV light exposure than their non-biofouling wild-type counterparts, consistent with increased silicification of cell walls associated with the oval biofouling morphotype. Our results provide a mechanistic definition of morphological shifts during surface colonization and identify candidate target proteins for the screening of eco-friendly, anti-biofouling molecules.
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