Symbiotic cnidarians such as corals and anemones form highly productive and biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in nutrient-poor ocean environments, a phenomenon known as Darwin’s paradox. Resolving this paradox requires elucidating the molecular bases of efficient nutrient distribution and recycling in the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis. Using the sea anemone Aiptasia, we show that during symbiosis, the increased availability of glucose and the presence of the algae jointly induce the coordinated up-regulation and relocalization of glucose and ammonium transporters. These molecular responses are critical to support symbiont functioning and organism-wide nitrogen assimilation through glutamine synthetase/glutamate synthase–mediated amino acid biosynthesis. Our results reveal crucial aspects of the molecular mechanisms underlying nitrogen conservation and recycling in these organisms that allow them to thrive in the nitrogen-poor ocean environments.
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