We examined the response of algal cells to laboratory-induced cadmium stress in terms of physiological activity, autonomous features (motility and fluorescence), adhesion dynamics, nanomechanical properties, and protein expression by employing a multimethod approach. We develop a methodology based on the generalized mathematical model to predict free cadmium concentrations in culture. We used algal cells of Dunaliella tertiolecta, which are widespread in marine and freshwater systems, as a model organism. Cell adaptation to cadmium stress is manifested through cell shape deterioration, slower motility, and an increase of physiological activity. No significant change in growth dynamics showed how cells adapt to stress by increasing active surface area against toxic cadmium in the culture. It was accompanied by an increase in green fluorescence (most likely associated with cadmium vesicular transport and/or beta-carotene production), while no change was observed in the red endogenous fluorescence (associated with chlorophyll). To maintain the same rate of chlorophyll emission, the cell adaptation response was manifested through increased expression of the identified chlorophyll-binding protein(s) that are important for photosynthesis. Since production of these proteins represents cell defence mechanisms, they may also signal the presence of toxic metal in seawater. Protein expression affects the cell surface properties and, therefore, the dynamics of the adhesion process. Cells behave stiffer under stress with cadmium, and thus, the initial attachment and deformation are slower. Physicochemical and structural characterizations of algal cell surfaces are of key importance to interpret, rationalize, and predict the behaviour and fate of the cell under stress in vivo.
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