Prochlorococcus is a marine cyanobacterium that numerically dominates the mid-latitude oceans and is the smallest known oxygenic phototroph. Numerous isolates from diverse areas of the world's oceans have been studied and shown to be physiologically and genetically distinct. All isolates described thus far can be assigned to either a tightly clustered high-light (HL)-adapted clade, or a more divergent low-light (LL)-adapted group. The 16S rRNA sequences of the entire Prochlorococcus group differ by at most 3%, and the four initially published genomes revealed patterns of genetic differentiation that help explain physiological differences among the isolates. Here we describe the genomes of eight newly sequenced isolates and combine them with the first four genomes for a comprehensive analysis of the core (shared by all isolates) and flexible genes of the Prochlorococcus group, and the patterns of loss and gain of the flexible genes over the course of evolution. There are 1,273 genes that represent the core shared by all 12 genomes. They are apparently sufficient, according to metabolic reconstruction, to encode a functional cell. We describe a phylogeny for all 12 isolates by subjecting their complete proteomes to three different phylogenetic analyses. For each non-core gene, we used a maximum parsimony method to estimate which ancestor likely first acquired or lost each gene. Many of the genetic differences among isolates, especially for genes involved in outer membrane synthesis and nutrient transport, are found within the same clade. Nevertheless, we identified some genes defining HL and LL ecotypes, and clades within these broad ecotypes, helping to demonstrate the basis of HL and LL adaptations in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, our estimates of gene gain events allow us to identify highly variable genomic islands that are not apparent through simple pairwise comparisons. These results emphasize the functional roles, especially those connected to outer membrane synthesis and transport that dominate the flexible genome and set it apart from the core. Besides identifying islands and demonstrating their role throughout the history of Prochlorococcus, reconstruction of past gene gains and losses shows that much of the variability exists at the “leaves of the tree,” between the most closely related strains. Finally, the identification of core and flexible genes from this 12-genome comparison is largely consistent with the relative frequency of Prochlorococcus genes found in global ocean metagenomic databases, further closing the gap between our understanding of these organisms in the lab and the wild.
Prochlorococcus—the most abundant photosynthetic microbe living in the vast, nutrient-poor areas of the ocean—is a major contributor to the global carbon cycle. Prochlorococcus is composed of closely related, physiologically distinct lineages whose differences enable the group as a whole to proliferate over a broad range of environmental conditions. We compare the genomes of 12 strains of Prochlorococcus representing its major lineages in order to identify genetic differences affecting the ecology of different lineages and their evolutionary origin. First, we identify the core genome: the 1,273 genes shared among all strains. This core set of genes encodes the essentials of a functional cell, enabling it to make living matter out of sunlight and carbon dioxide. We then create a genomic tree that maps the gain and loss of non-core genes in individual strains, showing that a striking number of genes are gained or lost even among the most closely related strains. We find that lost and gained genes commonly cluster in highly variable regions called genomic islands. The level of diversity among the non-core genes, and the number of new genes added with each new genome sequenced, suggest far more diversity to be discovered.
Prochlorococcus, an extremely small cyanobacterium that is very abundant in the world's oceans, has a very streamlined genome. On average, these cells have about 2,000 genes and very few regulatory proteins. The limited capability of regulation is thought to be a result of selection imposed by a relatively stable environment in combination with a very small genome. Furthermore, only ten non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), which play crucial regulatory roles in all forms of life, have been described in Prochlorococcus. Most strains also lack the RNA chaperone Hfq, raising the question of how important this mode of regulation is for these cells. To explore this question, we examined the transcription of intergenic regions of Prochlorococcus MED4 cells subjected to a number of different stress conditions: changes in light qualities and quantities, phage infection, or phosphorus starvation. Analysis of Affymetrix microarray expression data from intergenic regions revealed 276 novel transcriptional units. Among these were 12 new ncRNAs, 24 antisense RNAs (asRNAs), as well as 113 short mRNAs. Two additional ncRNAs were identified by homology, and all 14 new ncRNAs were independently verified by Northern hybridization and 5′RACE. Unlike its reduced suite of regulatory proteins, the number of ncRNAs relative to genome size in Prochlorococcus is comparable to that found in other bacteria, suggesting that RNA regulators likely play a major role in regulation in this group. Moreover, the ncRNAs are concentrated in previously identified genomic islands, which carry genes of significance to the ecology of this organism, many of which are not of cyanobacterial origin. Expression profiles of some of these ncRNAs suggest involvement in light stress adaptation and/or the response to phage infection consistent with their location in the hypervariable genomic islands.
Prochlorococcus is the most abundant phototroph in the vast, nutrient-poor areas of the ocean. It plays an important role in the ocean carbon cycle, and is a key component of the base of the food web. All cells share a core set of about 1,200 genes, augmented with a variable number of “flexible” genes. Many of the latter are located in genomic islands—hypervariable regions of the genome that encode functions important in differentiating the niches of “ecotypes.” Of major interest is how cells with such a small genome regulate cellular processes, as they lack many of the regulatory proteins commonly found in bacteria. We show here that contrary to the regulatory proteins, ncRNAs are present at levels typical of bacteria, revealing that they might have a disproportional regulatory role in Prochlorococcus—likely an adaptation to the extremely low-nutrient conditions of the open oceans, combined with the constraints of a small genome. Some of the ncRNAs were differentially expressed under stress conditions, and a high number of them were found to be associated with genomic islands, suggesting functional links between these RNAs and the response of Prochlorococcus to particular environmental challenges.
Prochlorococcus contributes significantly to ocean primary productivity. The link between primary productivity and iron in specific ocean regions is well established and iron limitation of Prochlorococcus cell division rates in these regions has been shown. However, the extent of ecotypic variation in iron metabolism among Prochlorococcus and the molecular basis for differences is not understood. Here, we examine the growth and transcriptional response of Prochlorococcus strains, MED4 and MIT9313, to changing iron concentrations. During steady state, MIT9313 sustains growth at an order-of-magnitude lower iron concentration than MED4. To explore this difference, we measured the whole-genome transcriptional response of each strain to abrupt iron starvation and rescue. Only four of the 1159 orthologs of MED4 and MIT9313 were differentially expressed in response to iron in both strains. However, in each strain, the expression of over a hundred additional genes changed, many of which are in labile genomic regions, suggesting a role for lateral gene transfer in establishing diversity of iron metabolism among Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, we found that MED4 lacks three genes near the iron-deficiency-induced gene (idiA) that are present and induced by iron stress in MIT9313. These genes are interesting targets for studying the adaptation of natural Prochlorococcus assemblages to local iron conditions as they show more diversity than other genomic regions in environmental metagenomic databases.
cyanobacteria; iron; transcriptome
Prochlorococcus is a genus of marine cyanobacteria characterized by small cell and genome size, an evolutionary trend toward low GC content, the possession of chlorophyll b, and the absence of phycobilisomes. Whereas many shared derived characters define Prochlorococcus as a clade, many genome-based analyses recover them as paraphyletic, with some low-light adapted Prochlorococcus spp. grouping with marine Synechococcus. Here, we use 18 Prochlorococcus and marine Synechococcus genomes to analyze gene flow within and between these taxa. We introduce embedded quartet scatter plots as a tool to screen for genes whose phylogeny agrees or conflicts with the plurality phylogenetic signal, with accepted taxonomy and naming, with GC content, and with the ecological adaptation to high and low light intensities. We find that most gene families support high-light adapted Prochlorococcus spp. as a monophyletic clade and low-light adapted Prochlorococcus sp. as a paraphyletic group. But we also detect 16 gene families that were transferred between high-light adapted and low-light adapted Prochlorococcus sp. and 495 gene families, including 19 ribosomal proteins, that do not cluster designated Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus strains in the expected manner. To explain the observed data, we propose that frequent gene transfer between marine Synechococcus spp. and low-light adapted Prochlorococcus spp. has created a “highway of gene sharing” (Beiko RG, Harlow TJ, Ragan MA. 2005. Highways of gene sharing in prokaryotes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 102:14332–14337) that tends to erode genus boundaries without erasing the Prochlorococcus-specific ecological adaptations.
marine cyanobacteria; horizontal gene transfer; introgression; quartet decomposition; supertree; genome evolution
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, which numerically dominate vast oceanic areas, are the two most abundant oxygenic phototrophs on Earth. Although they require solar energy for photosynthesis, excess light and associated high UV radiations can induce high levels of oxidative stress that may have deleterious effects on their growth and productivity. Here, we compared the photophysiologies of the model strains Prochlorococcus marinus PCC 9511 and Synechococcus sp. WH7803 grown under a bell-shaped light/dark cycle of high visible light supplemented or not with UV. Prochlorococcus exhibited a higher sensitivity to photoinactivation than Synechococcus under both conditions, as shown by a larger drop of photosystem II (PSII) quantum yield at noon and different diel patterns of the D1 protein pool. In the presence of UV, the PSII repair rate was significantly depressed at noon in Prochlorococcus compared to Synechococcus. Additionally, Prochlorococcus was more sensitive than Synechococcus to oxidative stress, as shown by the different degrees of PSII photoinactivation after addition of hydrogen peroxide. A transcriptional analysis also revealed dramatic discrepancies between the two organisms in the diel expression patterns of several genes involved notably in the biosynthesis and/or repair of photosystems, light-harvesting complexes, CO2 fixation as well as protection mechanisms against light, UV, and oxidative stress, which likely translate profound differences in their light-controlled regulation. Altogether our results suggest that while Synechococcus has developed efficient ways to cope with light and UV stress, Prochlorococcus cells seemingly survive stressful hours of the day by launching a minimal set of protection mechanisms and by temporarily bringing down several key metabolic processes. This study provides unprecedented insights into understanding the distinct depth distributions and dynamics of these two picocyanobacteria in the field.
marine cyanobacteria; Synechococcus; Prochlorococcus; light/dark cycle; light stress; UV radiations; oxidative stress; photophysiology
Prochlorococcus is the smallest oxygenic phototroph yet described. It numerically dominates the phytoplankton community in the mid-latitude oceanic gyres, where it has an important role in the global carbon cycle. The complete genomes of several Prochlorococcus strains have been sequenced, revealing that nearly half of the genes in each genome are of unknown function. Genetic methods, such as reporter gene assays and tagged mutagenesis, are critical to unveiling the functions of these genes. Here, we describe conditions for the transfer of plasmid DNA into Prochlorococcus strain MIT9313 by interspecific conjugation with Escherichia coli. Following conjugation, E. coli bacteria were removed from the Prochlorococcus cultures by infection with E. coli phage T7. We applied these methods to show that an RSF1010-derived plasmid will replicate in Prochlorococcus strain MIT9313. When this plasmid was modified to contain green fluorescent protein, we detected its expression in Prochlorococcus by Western blotting and cellular fluorescence. Further, we applied these conjugation methods to show that a mini-Tn5 transposon will transpose in vivo in Prochlorococcus. These genetic advances provide a basis for future genetic studies with Prochlorococcus, a microbe of ecological importance in the world's oceans.
Prochlorococcus is one of the dominant cyanobacteria and a key primary producer in oligotrophic intertropical oceans. Here we present an overview of the pathways of nitrogen assimilation in Prochlorococcus, which have been significantly modified in these microorganisms for adaptation to the natural limitations of their habitats, leading to the appearance of different ecotypes lacking key enzymes, such as nitrate reductase, nitrite reductase, or urease, and to the simplification of the metabolic regulation systems. The only nitrogen source utilizable by all studied isolates is ammonia, which is incorporated into glutamate by glutamine synthetase. However, this enzyme shows unusual regulatory features, although its structural and kinetic features are unchanged. Similarly, urease activities remain fairly constant under different conditions. The signal transduction protein PII is apparently not phosphorylated in Prochlorococcus, despite its conserved amino acid sequence. The genes amt1 and ntcA (coding for an ammonium transporter and a global nitrogen regulator, respectively) show noncorrelated expression in Prochlorococcus under nitrogen stress; furthermore, high rates of organic nitrogen uptake have been observed. All of these unusual features could provide a physiological basis for the predominance of Prochlorococcus over Synechococcus in oligotrophic oceans.
The effect of light on the synchronization of cell cycling was investigated in several strains of the oceanic photosynthetic prokaryote Prochlorococcus using flow cytometry. When exposed to a light-dark (L-D) cycle with an irradiance of 25 μmol of quanta · m−2 s−1, the low-light-adapted strain SS 120 appeared to be better synchronized than the high-light-adapted strain PCC 9511. Submitting L-D-entrained populations to shifts (advances or delays) in the timing of the “light on” signal translated to corresponding shifts in the initiation of the S phase, suggesting that this signal is a key parameter for the synchronization of population cell cycles. Cultures that were shifted from an L-D cycle to continuous irradiance showed persistent diel oscillations of flow-cytometric signals (light scatter and chlorophyll fluorescence) but with significantly reduced amplitudes and a phase shift. Complete darkness arrested most of the cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle, indicating that light is required to trigger the initiation of DNA replication and cell division. However, some cells also arrested in the S phase, suggesting that cell cycle controls in Prochlorococcus spp. are not as strict as in marine Synechococcus spp. Shifting Prochlorococcus cells from low to high irradiance translated quasi-instantaneously into an increase of cells in both the S and G2 phases of the cell cycle and then into faster growth, whereas the inverse shift induced rapid slowing of the population growth rate. These data suggest a close coupling between irradiance levels and cell cycling in Prochlorococcus spp.
The enzyme isocitrate dehydrogenase (ICDH; EC 220.127.116.11) catalyzes the oxidative decarboxylation of isocitrate, to produce 2-oxoglutarate. The incompleteness of the tricarboxylic acids cycle in marine cyanobacteria confers a special importance to isocitrate dehydrogenase in the C/N balance, since 2-oxoglutarate can only be metabolized through the glutamine synthetase/glutamate synthase pathway. The physiological regulation of isocitrate dehydrogenase was studied in cultures of Prochlorococcus sp. strain PCC 9511, by measuring enzyme activity and concentration using the NADPH production assay and Western blotting, respectively. The enzyme activity showed little changes under nitrogen or phosphorus starvation, or upon addition of the inhibitors DCMU, DBMIB and MSX. Azaserine, an inhibitor of glutamate synthase, induced clear increases in the isocitrate dehydrogenase activity and icd gene expression after 24 h, and also in the 2-oxoglutarate concentration. Iron starvation had the most significant effect, inducing a complete loss of isocitrate dehydrogenase activity, possibly mediated by a process of oxidative inactivation, while its concentration was unaffected. Our results suggest that isocitrate dehydrogenase responds to changes in the intracellular concentration of 2-oxoglutarate and to the redox status of the cells in Prochlorococcus.
ProPortal (http://proportal.mit.edu/) is a database containing genomic, metagenomic, transcriptomic and field data for the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus. Our goal is to provide a source of cross-referenced data across multiple scales of biological organization—from the genome to the ecosystem—embracing the full diversity of ecotypic variation within this microbial taxon, its sister group, Synechococcus and phage that infect them. The site currently contains the genomes of 13 Prochlorococcus strains, 11 Synechococcus strains and 28 cyanophage strains that infect one or both groups. Cyanobacterial and cyanophage genes are clustered into orthologous groups that can be accessed by keyword search or through a genome browser. Users can also identify orthologous gene clusters shared by cyanobacterial and cyanophage genomes. Gene expression data for Prochlorococcus ecotypes MED4 and MIT9313 allow users to identify genes that are up or downregulated in response to environmental stressors. In addition, the transcriptome in synchronized cells grown on a 24-h light–dark cycle reveals the choreography of gene expression in cells in a ‘natural’ state. Metagenomic sequences from the Global Ocean Survey from Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus and phage genomes are archived so users can examine the differences between populations from diverse habitats. Finally, an example of cyanobacterial population data from the field is included.
T4-like myoviruses are ubiquitous, and their genes are among the most abundant documented in ocean systems. Here we compare 26 T4-like genomes, including 10 from non-cyanobacterial myoviruses, and 16 from marine cyanobacterial myoviruses (cyanophages) isolated on diverse Prochlorococcus or Synechococcus hosts. A core genome of 38 virion construction and DNA replication genes was observed in all 26 genomes, with 32 and 25 additional genes shared among the non-cyanophage and cyanophage subsets, respectively. These hierarchical cores are highly syntenic across the genomes, and sampled to saturation. The 25 cyanophage core genes include six previously described genes with putative functions (psbA, mazG, phoH, hsp20, hli03, cobS), a hypothetical protein with a potential phytanoyl-CoA dioxygenase domain, two virion structural genes, and 16 hypothetical genes. Beyond previously described cyanophage-encoded photosynthesis and phosphate stress genes, we observed core genes that may play a role in nitrogen metabolism during infection through modulation of 2-oxoglutarate. Patterns among non-core genes that may drive niche diversification revealed that phosphorus-related gene content reflects source waters rather than host strain used for isolation, and that carbon metabolism genes appear associated with putative mobile elements. As well, phages isolated on Synechococcus had higher genome-wide %G+C and often contained different gene subsets (e.g. petE, zwf, gnd, prnA, cpeT) than those isolated on Prochlorococcus. However, no clear diagnostic genes emerged to distinguish these phage groups, suggesting blurred boundaries possibly due to cross-infection. Finally, genome-wide comparisons of both diverse and closely related, co-isolated genomes provide a locus-to-locus variability metric that will prove valuable for interpreting metagenomic data sets.
The in situ community structure of Prochlorococcus populations in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean was examined by analysis of Prochlorococcus 16S rDNA sequences with three independent approaches: cloning and sequencing, hybridization to specific oligonucleotide probes, and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). The hybridization of high-light (HL) and low-light (LL) Prochlorococcus genotype-specific probes to two depth profiles of PCR-amplified 16S rDNA sequences revealed that in these two stratified water columns, an obvious niche-partitioning of Prochlorococcus genotypes occurred. In each water column a shift from the HL to the LL genotype was observed, a transition correlating with the depth of the surface mixed layer (SML). Only the HL genotype was found in the SML in each water column, whereas the LL genotype was distributed below the SML. The range of in situ irradiance to which each genotype was subjected within these distinct niches was consistent with growth irradiance studies of cultured HL- and LL-adapted Prochlorococcus strains. DGGE analysis and the sequencing of Prochlorococcus 16S rDNA clones were in full agreement with the genotype-specific oligonucleotide probe hybridization data. These observations of a partitioning of Prochlorococcus genotypes in a stratified water column provide a genetic basis for the dim and bright Prochlorococcus populations observed in flow cytometric signatures in several oceanic provinces.
The phytoplankton community in the oligotrophic open ocean is numerically dominated by the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, accounting for approximately half of all photosynthesis. In the illuminated euphotic zone where Prochlorococcus grows, reactive oxygen species are continuously generated via photochemical reactions with dissolved organic matter. However, Prochlorococcus genomes lack catalase and additional protective mechanisms common in other aerobes, and this genus is highly susceptible to oxidative damage from hydrogen peroxide (HOOH). In this study we showed that the extant microbial community plays a vital, previously unrecognized role in cross-protecting Prochlorococcus from oxidative damage in the surface mixed layer of the oligotrophic ocean. Microbes are the primary HOOH sink in marine systems, and in the absence of the microbial community, surface waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean accumulated HOOH to concentrations that were lethal for Prochlorococcus cultures. In laboratory experiments with the marine heterotroph Alteromonas sp., serving as a proxy for the natural community of HOOH-degrading microbes, bacterial depletion of HOOH from the extracellular milieu prevented oxidative damage to the cell envelope and photosystems of co-cultured Prochlorococcus, and facilitated the growth of Prochlorococcus at ecologically-relevant cell concentrations. Curiously, the more recently evolved lineages of Prochlorococcus that exploit the surface mixed layer niche were also the most sensitive to HOOH. The genomic streamlining of these evolved lineages during adaptation to the high-light exposed upper euphotic zone thus appears to be coincident with an acquired dependency on the extant HOOH-consuming community. These results underscore the importance of (indirect) biotic interactions in establishing niche boundaries, and highlight the impacts that community-level responses to stress may have in the ecological and evolutionary outcomes for co-existing species.
Nitrogen (N) often limits biological productivity in the oceanic gyres where Prochlorococcus is the most abundant photosynthetic organism. The Prochlorococcus community is composed of strains, such as MED4 and MIT9313, that have different N utilization capabilities and that belong to ecotypes with different depth distributions. An interstrain comparison of how Prochlorococcus responds to changes in ambient nitrogen is thus central to understanding its ecology. We quantified changes in MED4 and MIT9313 global mRNA expression, chlorophyll fluorescence, and photosystem II photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm) along a time series of increasing N starvation. In addition, the global expression of both strains growing in ammonium-replete medium was compared to expression during growth on alternative N sources. There were interstrain similarities in N regulation such as the activation of a putative NtcA regulon during N stress. There were also important differences between the strains such as in the expression patterns of carbon metabolism genes, suggesting that the two strains integrate N and C metabolism in fundamentally different ways.
cyanobacteria; interstrain; nitrogen; Prochlorococcus; transcription
Marine cyanobacteria of the genus Prochlorococcus represent numerically dominant photoautotrophs residing throughout the euphotic zones in the open oceans and are major contributors to the global carbon cycle. Prochlorococcus has remained a genetically intractable bacterium due to slow growth rates and low transformation efficiencies using standard techniques. Our recent successes in cloning and genetically engineering the AT-rich, 1.1 Mb Mycoplasma mycoides genome in yeast encouraged us to explore similar methods with Prochlorococcus. Prochlorococcus MED4 has an AT-rich genome, with a GC content of 30.8%, similar to that of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (38%), and contains abundant yeast replication origin consensus sites (ACS) evenly distributed around its 1.66 Mb genome. Unlike Mycoplasma cells, which use the UGA codon for tryptophane, Prochlorococcus uses the standard genetic code. Despite this, we observed no toxic effects of several partial and 15 whole Prochlorococcus MED4 genome clones in S. cerevisiae. Sequencing of a Prochlorococcus genome purified from yeast identified 14 single base pair missense mutations, one frameshift, one single base substitution to a stop codon and one dinucleotide transversion compared to the donor genomic DNA. We thus provide evidence of transformation, replication and maintenance of this 1.66 Mb intact bacterial genome in S. cerevisiae.
The marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is very abundant in warm, nutrient-poor oceanic areas. The upper mixed layer of oceans is populated by high light-adapted Prochlorococcus ecotypes, which despite their tiny genome (~1.7 Mb) seem to have developed efficient strategies to cope with stressful levels of photosynthetically active and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. At a molecular level, little is known yet about how such minimalist microorganisms manage to sustain high growth rates and avoid potentially detrimental, UV-induced mutations to their DNA. To address this question, we studied the cell cycle dynamics of P. marinus PCC9511 cells grown under high fluxes of visible light in the presence or absence of UV radiation. Near natural light-dark cycles of both light sources were obtained using a custom-designed illumination system (cyclostat). Expression patterns of key DNA synthesis and repair, cell division, and clock genes were analyzed in order to decipher molecular mechanisms of adaptation to UV radiation.
The cell cycle of P. marinus PCC9511 was strongly synchronized by the day-night cycle. The most conspicuous response of cells to UV radiation was a delay in chromosome replication, with a peak of DNA synthesis shifted about 2 h into the dark period. This delay was seemingly linked to a strong downregulation of genes governing DNA replication (dnaA) and cell division (ftsZ, sepF), whereas most genes involved in DNA repair (such as recA, phrA, uvrA, ruvC, umuC) were already activated under high visible light and their expression levels were only slightly affected by additional UV exposure.
Prochlorococcus cells modified the timing of the S phase in response to UV exposure, therefore reducing the risk that mutations would occur during this particularly sensitive stage of the cell cycle. We identified several possible explanations for the observed timeshift. Among these, the sharp decrease in transcript levels of the dnaA gene, encoding the DNA replication initiator protein, is sufficient by itself to explain this response, since DNA synthesis starts only when the cellular concentration of DnaA reaches a critical threshold. However, the observed response likely results from a more complex combination of UV-altered biological processes.
The physiological regulation of glutamine synthetase (GS; EC 18.104.22.168) in the axenic Prochlorococcus sp. strain PCC 9511 was studied. GS activity and antigen concentration were measured using the transferase and biosynthetic assays and the electroimmunoassay, respectively. GS activity decreased when cells were subjected to nitrogen starvation or cultured with oxidized nitrogen sources, which proved to be nonusable for Prochlorococcus growth. The GS activity in cultures subjected to long-term phosphorus starvation was lower than that in equivalent nitrogen-starved cultures. Azaserine, an inhibitor of glutamate synthase, provoked an increase in enzymatic activity, suggesting that glutamine is not involved in GS regulation. Darkness did not affect GS activity significantly, while the addition of diuron provoked GS inactivation. GS protein determination showed that azaserine induces an increase in the concentration of the enzyme. The unusual responses to darkness and nitrogen starvation could reflect adaptation mechanisms of Prochlorococcus for coping with a light- and nutrient-limited environment.
The minute photosynthetic prokaryote Prochlorococcus, which was discovered about 10 years ago, has proven exceptional from several standpoints. Its tiny size (0.5 to 0.7 μm in diameter) makes it the smallest known photosynthetic organism. Its ubiquity within the 40°S to 40°N latitudinal band of oceans and its occurrence at high density from the surface down to depths of 200 m make it presumably the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth. Prochlorococcus typically divides once a day in the subsurface layer of oligotrophic areas, where it dominates the photosynthetic biomass. It also possesses a remarkable pigment complement which includes divinyl derivatives of chlorophyll a (Chl a) and Chl b, the so-called Chl a2 and Chl b2, and, in some strains, small amounts of a new type of phycoerythrin. Phylogenetically, Prochlorococcus has also proven fascinating. Recent studies suggest that it evolved from an ancestral cyanobacterium by reducing its cell and genome sizes and by recruiting a protein originally synthesized under conditions of iron depletion to build a reduced antenna system as a replacement for large phycobilisomes. Environmental constraints clearly played a predominant role in Prochlorococcus evolution. Its tiny size is an advantage for its adaptation to nutrient-deprived environments. Furthermore, genetically distinct ecotypes, with different antenna systems and ecophysiological characteristics, are present at depth and in surface waters. This vertical species variation has allowed Prochlorococcus to adapt to the natural light gradient occurring in the upper layer of oceans. The present review critically assesses the basic knowledge acquired about Prochlorococcus both in the ocean and in the laboratory.
We examined the contribution of photoheterotrophic microbes—those capable of light-mediated assimilation of organic compounds—to bacterial production and amino acid assimilation along a transect from Florida to Iceland from 28 May to 9 July 2005. Bacterial production (leucine incorporation at a 20 nM final concentration) was on average 30% higher in light than in dark-incubated samples, but the effect varied greatly (3% to 60%). To further characterize this light effect, we examined the abundance of potential photoheterotrophs and measured their contribution to bacterial production and amino acid assimilation (0.5 nM addition) using flow cytometry. Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus were abundant in surface waters where light-dependent leucine incorporation was observed, whereas aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria were abundant but did not correlate with the light effect. The per-cell assimilation rates of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus were comparable to or higher than those of other prokaryotes, especially in the light. Picoeukaryotes also took up leucine (20 nM) and other amino acids (0.5 nM), but rates normalized to biovolume were much lower than those of prokaryotes. Prochlorococcus was responsible for 80% of light-stimulated bacterial production and amino acid assimilation in surface waters south of the Azores, while Synechococcus accounted for on average 12% of total assimilation. However, nearly 40% of the light-stimulated leucine assimilation was not accounted for by these groups, suggesting that assimilation by other microbes is also affected by light. Our results clarify the contribution of cyanobacteria to photoheterotrophy and highlight the potential role of other photoheterotrophs in biomass production and dissolved-organic-matter assimilation.
In Escherichia coli K-12 strain W3110, the amount of 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase relative to that of total protein, i.e., the specific enzyme activity, increases about threefold during growth in minimal media over the range of growth rates with acetate and glucose as sole carbon sources. Previous work with gnd-lac operon and protein fusion strains indicated that two steps in the expression of the gnd gene are subject to growth rate-dependent control, with at least one step being posttranscriptional. With both Northern (RNA) and slot blot analyses, we found that the amount of gnd mRNA relative to that of total RNA was 2.5-fold higher in cells growing in glucose minimal medium than in cells grown on acetate. Therefore, since the total mRNA fraction of total RNA is essentially independent of the growth rate, the amount of gnd mRNA relative to that of total mRNA increases about 2.5-fold with increasing growth rate. This indicates that most of the growth rate-dependent increase in 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase can be accounted for by the growth rate-dependent increase in gnd mRNA level. We measured the decay of gnd mRNA mass in the two growth conditions after blocking transcription initiation with rifampin and found that the stability of gnd mRNA does not change with growth rate. We also used a gnd-lacZ protein fusion to measure the functional mRNA half-life and found that it too is growth rate independent. Thus, the growth rate-dependent increase in the level of gnd mRNA is due to an increase in gnd transcription, and this increase is sufficient to account for the growth rate regulation of the 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase level. The dilemma posed by interpretations of the properties of gnd-lac fusion strains and by direct measurement of gnd mRNA level is discussed.
Prochlorococcus is the numerically dominant photosynthetic organism throughout much of the world's oceans, yet little is known about the ecology and genetic diversity of populations inhabiting tropical waters. To help close this gap, we examined natural Prochlorococcus communities in the tropical Pacific Ocean using a single-cell whole-genome amplification and sequencing. Analysis of the gene content of just 10 single cells from these waters added 394 new genes to the Prochlorococcus pan-genome—that is, genes never before seen in a Prochlorococcus cell. Analysis of marker genes, including the ribosomal internal transcribed sequence, from dozens of individual cells revealed several representatives from two uncultivated clades of Prochlorococcus previously identified as HNLC1 and HNLC2. While the HNLC clades can dominate Prochlorococcus communities under certain conditions, their overall geographic distribution was highly restricted compared with other clades of Prochlorococcus. In the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, these clades were only found in warm waters with low Fe and high inorganic P levels. Genomic analysis suggests that at least one of these clades thrives in low Fe environments by scavenging organic-bound Fe, a process previously unknown in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, the capacity to utilize organic-bound Fe appears to have been acquired horizontally and may be exchanged among other clades of Prochlorococcus. Finally, one of the single Prochlorococcus cells sequenced contained a partial genome of what appears to be a prophage integrated into the genome.
HNLC; Prochlorococcus; siderophore
In phosphorus-limited marine environments, picocyanobacteria (Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus spp.) can hydrolyze naturally occurring phosphonates as a P source. Utilization of 2-aminoethylphosphonate (2-AEP) is dependent on expression of the phn genes, encoding functions required for uptake, and C–P bond cleavage. Prior work has indicated that expression of picocyanobacterial phnD, encoding the phosphonate binding protein of the phosphonate ABC transporter, is a proxy for the assimilation of phosphonates in natural assemblages of Synechococcus spp. and Prochlorococcus spp (Ilikchyan et al., 2009). In this study, we expand this work to assess seasonal phnD expression in the Sargasso Sea. By RT-PCR, our data confirm that phnD expression is constitutive for the Prochlorococcus spp. detected, but in Synechococcus spp. phnD transcription follows patterns of phosphorus availability in the mixed layer. Specifically, our data suggest that phnD is repressed in the spring when P is bioavailable following deep winter mixing. In the fall, phnD expression follows a depth-dependent pattern reflecting depleted P at the surface following summertime drawdown, and elevated P at depth.
picocyanobacteria; phosphonates; Synechococcus; Prochlorococcus; Sargasso Sea; phosphorus utilization
Heterocysts, sites of nitrogen fixation in certain filamentous cyanobacteria, are limited to a heterotrophic metabolism, rather than the photoautotrophic metabolism characteristic of cyanobacterial vegetative cells. The metabolic route of carbon catabolism in the supply of reductant to nitrogenase and for respiratory electron transport in heterocysts is unresolved. The gene (zwf) encoding glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), the initial enzyme of the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway, was inactivated in the heterocyst-forming, facultatively heterotrophic cyanobacterium, Nostoc sp. strain ATCC 29133. The zwf mutant strain had less than 5% of the wild-type apparent G6PD activity, while retaining wild-type rates of photoautotrophic growth with NH4+ and of dark O2 uptake, but it failed to grow either under N2-fixing conditions or in the dark with organic carbon sources. A wild-type copy of zwf in trans in the zwf mutant strain restored only 25% of the G6PD specific activity, but the defective N2 fixation and dark growth phenotypes were nearly completely complemented. Transcript analysis established that zwf is in an operon also containing genes encoding two other enzymes of the oxidative pentose phosphate cycle, fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase and transaldolase, as well as a previously undescribed gene (designated opcA) that is cotranscribed with zwf. Inactivation of opcA yielded a growth phenotype identical to that of the zwf mutant, including a 98% decrease, relative to the wild type, in apparent G6PD specific activity. The growth phenotype and lesion of G6PD activity in the opcA mutant were complemented in trans with a wild-type copy of opcA. In addition, placement in trans of a multicopy plasmid containing the wild-type copies of both zwf and opcA in the zwf mutant resulted in an approximately 20-fold stimulation of G6PD activity, relative to the wild type, complete restoration of nitrogenase activity, and a slight stimulation of N2-dependent photoautotrophic growth and fructose-supported dark growth. These results unequivocally establish that G6PD, and most likely the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway, represents the essential catabolic route for providing reductant for nitrogen fixation and respiration in differentiated heterocysts and for dark growth of vegetative cells. Moreover, the opcA gene product is involved by an as yet unknown mechanism in G6PD synthesis or catalytic activity.
Photosystem II photochemistry and phycobiliprotein (PBP) genes of red algae Kappaphycus alvarezii, raw material of κ-carrageenan used in food and pharmaceutical industries, were analyzed in this study. Minimum saturating irradiance (Ik) of this algal species was less than 115 μmol m−2 s−1. Its actual PSII efficiency (yield II) increased when light intensity enhanced and decreased when light intensity reached 200 μmol m−2 s−1. Under dim light, yield II declined at first and then increased on the fourth day. Under high light, yield II retained a stable value. These results indicate that K. alvarezii is a low-light-adapted species but possesses regulative mechanisms in response to both excessive and deficient light. Based on the PBP gene sequences, K. alvarezii, together with other red algae, assembled faster and showed a closer relationship with LL-Prochlorococcus compared to HL-Prochlorococcus. Many amino acid loci in PBP sequences of K. alvarezii were conserved with those of LL-Prochlorococcus. However, loci conserved with HL-Prochlorococcus but divergent with LL-Prochlorococcus were also found. The diversities of PE and PC are proposed to have played some roles during the algal evolution and divergence of light adaption.
Prochlorococcus sp. are marine bacteria with very small genomes. The mechanisms by which these reduced genomes have evolved appears, however, to be distinct from those that have led to small genome size in intracellular bacteria.
Three complete genomes of Prochlorococcus species, the smallest and most abundant photosynthetic organism in the ocean, have recently been published. Comparative genome analyses reveal that genome shrinkage has occurred within this genus, associated with a sharp reduction in G+C content. As all examples of genome reduction characterized so far have been restricted to endosymbionts or pathogens, with a host-dependent lifestyle, the observed genome reduction in Prochlorococcus is the first documented example of such a process in a free-living organism.
Our results clearly indicate that genome reduction has been accompanied by an increased rate of protein evolution in P. marinus SS120 that is even more pronounced in P. marinus MED4. This acceleration has affected every functional category of protein-coding genes. In contrast, the 16S rRNA gene seems to have evolved clock-like in this genus. We observed that MED4 and SS120 have lost several DNA-repair genes, the absence of which could be related to the mutational bias and the acceleration of amino-acid substitution.
We have examined the evolutionary mechanisms involved in this process, which are different from those known from host-dependent organisms. Indeed, most substitutions that have occurred in Prochlorococcus have to be selectively neutral, as the large size of populations imposes low genetic drift and strong purifying selection. We assume that the major driving force behind genome reduction within the Prochlorococcus radiation has been a selective process favoring the adaptation of this organism to its environment. A scenario is proposed for genome evolution in this genus.