While algal phago-mixotrophs play a major role in aquatic microbial food webs, their diversity remains poorly understood. Recent studies have indicated several species of prasinophytes, early diverging green algae, to be able to consume bacteria for nutrition. To further explore the occurrence of phago-mixotrophy in green algae, we conducted feeding experiments with live fluorescently labeled bacteria stained with CellTracker Green CMFDA, heat-killed bacteria stained with 5-(4,6-dichlorotriazin-2-yl) aminofluorescein (DTAF), and magnetic beads. Feeding was detected via microscopy and/or flow cytometry in five strains of prasinophytes when provided with live bacteria:
Pterosperma cristatumNIES626, Pyramimonas parkeaeCCMP726, Pyramimonas parkeaeNIES254, Nephroselmis pyriformisRCC618, and Dolichomastix tenuilepisCCMP3274. No feeding was detected when heat-killed bacteria or magnetic beads were provided, suggesting a strong preference for live prey in the strains tested. In parallel to experimental assays, green algal bacterivory was investigated using a gene-based prediction model. The predictions agreed with the experimental results and suggested bacterivory potential in additional green algae. Our observations underline the likelihood of widespread occurrence of phago-mixotrophy among green algae, while additionally highlighting potential biases introduced when using prey proxy to evaluate bacterial ingestion by algal cells.