Main conclusion: The transcriptional modulation of desiccation tolerance factors inP. orbicularisexplains its successful recuperation after water deficit. Differential responses to air exposure clarify seaweed distribution along intertidal rocky zones. Desiccation-tolerant seaweed species, such as Pyropia orbicularis, can tolerate near 96% water loss during air exposure. To understand the phenotypic plasticity of P. orbicularis to desiccation, several tolerance factors were assessed by RT-qPCR, Western-blot analysis, and enzymatic assays during the natural desiccation–rehydration cycle. Comparative enzymatic analyses were used to evidence differential responses between P. orbicularis and desiccation-sensitive species. The results showed that during desiccation, the relative mRNA levels of genes associated with basal metabolism [trehalose phosphate synthase (tps) and pyruvate dehydrogenase (pdh)] were overexpressed in P. orbicularis. Transcript levels related to antioxidant metabolism [peroxiredoxin (prx); thioredoxin (trx); catalase (cat); lipoxygenase (lox); ferredoxin (fnr); glutathione S-transferase (gst)], cellular detoxification [ABC transporter (abc) and ubiquitin (ubq)], and signal transduction [calmodulin (cam)] increased approximately 15- to 20-fold, with the majority returning to basal levels during the final hours of rehydration. In contrast, actin (act) and transcription factor 1 (tf1) transcripts were down-regulated. ABC transporter protein levels increased in P. orbicularis during desiccation, whereas PRX transcripts decreased. The antioxidant enzymes showed higher specific activity in P. orbicularis under desiccation, and sensitive species exhibited enzymatic inactivation and scarce ABC and PRX protein detection following prolonged desiccation. In conclusion, the reported findings contribute towards understanding the ecological distribution of intertidal seaweeds at the molecular and functional levels.
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