Large swaths of the nutrient-poor surface ocean are dominated numerically by cyanobacteria (Prochlorococcus), cyanobacterial viruses (cyanophage), and alphaproteobacteria (SAR11). How these groups thrive in the diverse physicochemical environments of different oceanic regions remains poorly understood. Comparative metagenomics can reveal adaptive responses linked to ecosystem-specific selective pressures. The Red Sea is well-suited for studying adaptation of pelagic-microbes, with salinities, temperatures, and light levels at the extreme end for the surface ocean, and low nutrient concentrations, yet no metagenomic studies have been done there. The Red Sea (high salinity, high light, low N and P) compares favorably with the Mediterranean Sea (high salinity, low P), Sargasso Sea (low P), and North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (high light, low N). We quantified the relative abundance of genetic functions among Prochlorococcus, cyanophage, and SAR11 from these four regions. Gene frequencies indicate selection for phosphorus acquisition (Mediterranean/Sargasso), DNA repair and high-light responses (Red Sea/Pacific Prochlorococcus), and osmolyte C1 oxidation (Red Sea/Mediterranean SAR11). The unexpected connection between salinity-dependent osmolyte production and SAR11 C1 metabolism represents a potentially major coevolutionary adaptation and biogeochemical flux. Among Prochlorococcus and cyanophage, genes enriched in specific environments had ecotype distributions similar to nonenriched genes, suggesting that inter-ecotype gene transfer is not a major source of environment-specific adaptation. Clustering of metagenomes using gene frequencies shows similarities in populations (Red Sea with Pacific, Mediterranean with Sargasso) that belie their geographic distances. Taken together, the genetic functions enriched in specific environments indicate competitive strategies for maintaining carrying capacity in the face of physical stressors and low nutrient availability.
Cyanophage; metagenomics; osmolyte; Pelagibacter; population genomics; Prochlorococcus; SAR11
The phylogenetic diversity of an oligotrophic marine picoplankton community was examined by analyzing the sequences of cloned ribosomal genes. This strategy does not rely on cultivation of the resident microorganisms. Bulk genomic DNA was isolated from picoplankton collected in the north central Pacific Ocean by tangential flow filtration. The mixed-population DNA was fragmented, size fractionated, and cloned into bacteriophage lambda. Thirty-eight clones containing 16S rRNA genes were identified in a screen of 3.2 x 10(4) recombinant phage, and portions of the rRNA gene were amplified by polymerase chain reaction and sequenced. The resulting sequences were used to establish the identities of the picoplankton by comparison with an established data base of rRNA sequences. Fifteen unique eubacterial sequences were obtained, including four from cyanobacteria and eleven from proteobacteria. A single eucaryote related to dinoflagellates was identified; no archaebacterial sequences were detected. The cyanobacterial sequences are all closely related to sequences from cultivated marine Synechococcus strains and with cyanobacterial sequences obtained from the Atlantic Ocean (Sargasso Sea). Several sequences were related to common marine isolates of the gamma subdivision of proteobacteria. In addition to sequences closely related to those of described bacteria, sequences were obtained from two phylogenetic groups of organisms that are not closely related to any known rRNA sequences from cultivated organisms. Both of these novel phylogenetic clusters are proteobacteria, one group within the alpha subdivision and the other distinct from known proteobacterial subdivisions. The rRNA sequences of the alpha-related group are nearly identical to those of some Sargasso Sea picoplankton, suggesting a global distribution of these organisms.
Cultured isolates of the marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus vary widely in their pigment compositions and growth responses to light and nutrients, yet show greater than 96% identity in their 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences. In order to better define the genetic variation that accompanies their physiological diversity, sequences for the 16S-23S rDNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region were determined in 32 Prochlorococcus isolates and 25 Synechococcus isolates from around the globe. Each strain examined yielded one ITS sequence that contained two tRNA genes. Dramatic variations in the length and G+C content of the spacer were observed among the strains, particularly among Prochlorococcus strains. Secondary-structure models of the ITS were predicted in order to facilitate alignment of the sequences for phylogenetic analyses. The previously observed division of Prochlorococcus into two ecotypes (called high and low-B/A after their differences in chlorophyll content) were supported, as was the subdivision of the high-B/A ecotype into four genetically distinct clades. ITS-based phylogenies partitioned marine cluster A Synechococcus into six clades, three of which can be associated with a particular phenotype (motility, chromatic adaptation, and lack of phycourobilin). The pattern of sequence divergence within and between clades is suggestive of a mode of evolution driven by adaptive sweeps and implies that each clade represents an ecologically distinct population. Furthermore, many of the clades consist of strains isolated from disparate regions of the world's oceans, implying that they are geographically widely distributed. These results provide further evidence that natural populations of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus consist of multiple coexisting ecotypes, genetically closely related but physiologically distinct, which may vary in relative abundance with changing environmental conditions.
Because they are ubiquitous in a range of aquatic environments and culture methods are relatively advanced, cyanobacteria may be useful models for understanding the extent of evolutionary adaptation of prokaryotes in general to environmental gradients. The roles of environmental variables such as light and nutrients in influencing cyanobacterial genetic diversity are still poorly characterized, however. In this study, a total of 15 Synechococcus strains were isolated from the oligotrophic edge of the California Current from two depths (5 and 95 m) with large differences in light intensity, light quality, and nutrient concentrations. RNA polymerase gene (rpoC1) fragment sequences of the strains revealed two major genetic lineages, distinct from other marine or freshwater cyanobacterial isolates or groups seen in shotgun-cloned sequences from the oligotrophic Atlantic Ocean. The California Current low-phycourobilin (CCLPUB) group represented by six isolates in a single lineage was less diverse than the California Current high-phycourobilin (CCHPUB) group with nine isolates in three relatively divergent lineages. The former was found to be the closest known genetic group to Prochlorococcus spp., a chlorophyll b-containing cyanobacterial group. Having an isolate from this group will be valuable for looking at the molecular changes necessary for the transition from the use of phycobiliproteins to chlorophyll b as light-harvesting pigments. Both of the CCHPUB and CCLPUB groups included strains obtained from surface (5 m) and deep (95 m) samples. Thus, contrary to expectations, there was no clear correlation between sampling depth and isolation of genetic groups, despite the large environmental gradients present. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration with isolates that genetically divergent Synechococcus groups coexist in the same seawater sample.
Cyanophages (cyanobacterial viruses) are important agents of horizontal gene transfer among marine cyanobacteria, the numerically dominant photosynthetic organisms in the oceans. Some cyanophage genomes carry and express host-like photosynthesis genes, presumably to augment the host photosynthetic machinery during infection. To study the prevalence and evolutionary dynamics of this phenomenon, 33 cultured cyanophages of known family and host range and viral DNA from field samples were screened for the presence of two core photosystem reaction center genes,
psbD. Combining this expanded dataset with published data for nine other cyanophages, we found that 88% of the phage genomes contain
psbA, and 50% contain both
psbA gene was found in all myoviruses and
Prochlorococcus podoviruses, but could not be amplified from
Prochlorococcus siphoviruses or
Synechococcus podoviruses. Nearly all of the phages that encoded both
psbD had broad host ranges. We speculate that the presence or absence of
psbA in a phage genome may be determined by the length of the latent period of infection. Whether it also carries
psbD may reflect constraints on coupling of viral- and host-encoded PsbA–PsbD in the photosynthetic reaction center across divergent hosts. Phylogenetic clustering patterns of these genes from cultured phages suggest that whole genes have been transferred from host to phage in a discrete number of events over the course of evolution (four for
psbA, and two for
psbD), followed by horizontal and vertical transfer between cyanophages. Clustering patterns of
Synechococcus cells were inconsistent with other molecular phylogenetic markers, suggesting genetic exchanges involving
Synechococcus lineages. Signatures of intragenic recombination, detected within the cyanophage gene pool as well as between hosts and phages in both directions, support this hypothesis. The analysis of cyanophage
psbD genes from field populations revealed significant sequence diversity, much of which is represented in our cultured isolates. Collectively, these findings show that photosynthesis genes are common in cyanophages and that significant genetic exchanges occur from host to phage, phage to host, and within the phage gene pool. This generates genetic diversity among the phage, which serves as a reservoir for their hosts, and in turn influences photosystem evolution.
Analysis of 33 cultured cyanophages of known family and host range, as well as viral DNA from field samples, reveals the prevalence of photosynthesis genes in cyanophages and demonstrates significant genetic exchanges between host and phage.
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.
Marine microbial communities often contain multiple closely related phylogenetic clades, but in many cases, it is still unclear what physiological traits differentiate these putative ecotypes. The numerically abundant marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus can be divided into at least 14 clades. In order to better understand ecotype differentiation in this genus, we assessed the diversity of a Synechococcus community from a well-mixed water column in the Sargasso Sea during March 2002, a time of year when this genus typically reaches its annual peak in abundance. Diversity was estimated from water sampled at three depths (approximately 5, 70, and 170 m) using both culture isolation and construction of cyanobacterial 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed sequence clone libraries. Clonal isolates were obtained by enrichment with ammonium, nitrite, or nitrate as the sole N source, followed by pour plating. Each method sampled the in situ diversity differently. The combined methods revealed a total of seven Synechococcus phylotypes including two new putative ecotypes, labeled XV and XVI. Although most other isolates grow on nitrate, clade XV exhibited a reduced efficiency in nitrate utilization, and both clade XV and XVI are capable of chromatic adaptation, demonstrating that this trait is more widely distributed among Synechococcus strains than previously known. Thus, as in its sister genus Prochlorococcus, light and nitrogen utilization are important factors in ecotype differentiation in the marine Synechococcus lineage.
Picocyanobacteria represented by Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus have an important role in oceanic carbon fixation and nutrient cycling. In this study, we compared the community composition of picocyanobacteria from diverse marine ecosystems ranging from estuary to open oceans, tropical to polar oceans and surface to deep water, based on the sequences of 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS). A total of 1339 ITS sequences recovered from 20 samples unveiled diverse and several previously unknown clades of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. Six high-light (HL)-adapted Prochlorococcus clades were identified, among which clade HLVI had not been described previously. Prochlorococcus clades HLIII, HLIV and HLV, detected in the Equatorial Pacific samples, could be related to the HNLC clades recently found in the high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll (HNLC), iron-depleted tropical oceans. At least four novel Synechococcus clades (out of six clades in total) in subcluster 5.3 were found in subtropical open oceans and the South China Sea. A niche partitioning with depth was observed in the Synechococcus subcluster 5.3. Members of Synechococcus subcluster 5.2 were dominant in the high-latitude waters (northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea), suggesting a possible cold-adaptation of some marine Synechococcus in this subcluster. A distinct shift of the picocyanobacterial community was observed from the Bering Sea to the Chukchi Sea, which reflected the change of water temperature. Our study demonstrates that oceanic systems contain a large pool of diverse picocyanobacteria, and further suggest that new genotypes or ecotypes of picocyanobacteria will continue to emerge, as microbial consortia are explored with advanced sequencing technology.
cyanobacteria; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; diversity; global ocean; 16S-23S rRNA ITS
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.
Photosynthetic light-harvesting proteins are the mechanism by which energy enters the marine ecosystem. The dominant prokaryotic photoautotrophs are the cyanobacterial genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus that are defined by two distinct light-harvesting systems, chlorophyll-bound protein complexes or phycobilin-bound protein complexes, respectively. Here, we use the Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) Project as a unique and powerful tool to analyze the environmental diversity of photosynthetic light-harvesting genes in relation to available metadata including geographical location and physical and chemical environmental parameters.
All light-harvesting gene fragments and their metadata were obtained from the GOS database, aligned using ClustalX and classified phylogenetically. Each sequence has a name indicative of its geographic location; subsequent biogeographical analysis was performed by correlating light-harvesting gene budgets for each GOS station with surface chlorophyll concentration.
Using the GOS data, we have mapped the biogeography of light-harvesting genes in marine cyanobacteria on ocean-basin scales and show that an environmental gradient exists in which chlorophyll concentration is correlated to diversity of light-harvesting systems. Three functionally distinct types of light-harvesting genes are defined: (1) the phycobilisome (PBS) genes of Synechococcus; (2) the pcb genes of Prochlorococcus; and (3) the iron-stress-induced (isiA) genes present in some marine Synechococcus. At low chlorophyll concentrations, where nutrients are limited, the Pcb-type light-harvesting system shows greater genetic diversity; whereas at high chlorophyll concentrations, where nutrients are abundant, the PBS-type light-harvesting system shows higher genetic diversity. We interpret this as an environmental selection of specific photosynthetic strategy. Importantly, the unique light-harvesting system isiA is found in the iron-limited, high-nutrient low-chlorophyll region of the equatorial Pacific. This observation demonstrates the ecological importance of isiA genes in enabling marine Synechococcus to acclimate to iron limitation and suggests that the presence of this gene can be a natural biomarker for iron limitation in oceanic environments.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the most abundant photosynthetic organisms in oligotrophic waters and responsible for a significant percentage of the earth's primary production. Here we developed a method for metagenomic sequencing of sorted Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations using a transposon-based library preparation technique. First, we observed that the cell lysis technique and associated amount of input DNA had an important role in determining the DNA library quality. Second, we found that our transposon-based method provided a more even coverage distribution and matched more sequences of a reference genome than multiple displacement amplification, a commonly used method for metagenomic sequencing. We then demonstrated the method on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus field populations from the Sargasso Sea and California Current isolated by flow cytometric sorting and found clear environmentally related differences in ecotype distributions and gene abundances. In addition, we saw a significant correspondence between metagenomic libraries sequenced with our technique and regular sequencing of bulk DNA. Our results show that this targeted method is a viable replacement for regular metagenomic approaches and will be useful for identifying the biogeography and genome content of specific marine cyanobacterial populations.
Cyanobacteria are photoautotrophic prokaryotes with wide variations in genome sizes and ecological habitats. Peroxiredoxin (PRX) is an important protein that plays essential roles in protecting own cells against reactive oxygen species (ROS). PRXs have been identified from mammals, fungi and higher plants. However, knowledge on cyanobacterial PRXs still remains obscure. With the availability of 37 sequenced cyanobacterial genomes, we performed a comprehensive comparative analysis of PRXs and explored their diversity, distribution, domain structure and evolution.
Overall 244 putative prx genes were identified, which were abundant in filamentous diazotrophic cyanobacteria, Acaryochloris marina MBIC 11017, and unicellular cyanobacteria inhabiting freshwater and hot-springs, while poor in all Prochlorococcus and marine Synechococcus strains. Among these putative genes, 25 open reading frames (ORFs) encoding hypothetical proteins were identified as prx gene family members and the others were already annotated as prx genes. All 244 putative PRXs were classified into five major subfamilies (1-Cys, 2-Cys, BCP, PRX5_like, and PRX-like) according to their domain structures. The catalytic motifs of the cyanobacterial PRXs were similar to those of eukaryotic PRXs and highly conserved in all but the PRX-like subfamily. Classical motif (CXXC) of thioredoxin was detected in protein sequences from the PRX-like subfamily. Phylogenetic tree constructed of catalytic domains coincided well with the domain structures of PRXs and the phylogenies based on 16s rRNA.
The distribution of genes encoding PRXs in different unicellular and filamentous cyanobacteria especially those sub-families like PRX-like or 1-Cys PRX correlate with the genome size, eco-physiology, and physiological properties of the organisms. Cyanobacterial and eukaryotic PRXs share similar conserved motifs, indicating that cyanobacteria adopt similar catalytic mechanisms as eukaryotes. All cyanobacterial PRX proteins share highly similar structures, implying that these genes may originate from a common ancestor. In this study, a general framework of the sequence-structure-function connections of the PRXs was revealed, which may facilitate functional investigations of PRXs in various organisms.
Peroxiredoxin; Structure; Phylogeny and evolution; Comparative genomics; Cyanobacteria
Many cyanophage isolates which infect the marine cyanobacteria Synechococcus spp. and Prochlorococcus spp. contain a gene homologous to psbA, which codes for the D1 protein involved in photosynthesis. In the present study, cyanophage psbA gene fragments were readily amplified from freshwater and marine samples, confirming their widespread occurrence in aquatic communities. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that sequences from freshwaters have an evolutionary history that is distinct from that of their marine counterparts. Similarly, sequences from cyanophages infecting Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus spp. were readily discriminated, as were sequences from podoviruses and myoviruses. Viral psbA sequences from the same geographic origins clustered within different clades. For example, cyanophage psbA sequences from the Arctic Ocean fell within the Synechococcus as well as Prochlorococcus phage groups. Moreover, as psbA sequences are not confined to a single family of phages, they provide an additional genetic marker that can be used to explore the diversity and evolutionary history of cyanophages in aquatic environments.
Synechococcus are distributed throughout the world’s oceans and are composed of diverse genetic lineages. However, as they are much less abundant than Prochlorococcus in oligotrophic open oceans, their in-depth genetic diversity cannot be investigated using commonly used primers targeting both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. Thus, in this study, we designed a primer specific to the 16S–23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of the Synechococcus subcluster 5.1. Using the primer, we could selectively amplify Synechococcus sequences in oligotrophic seawater samples. Further, we showed that a barcoded amplicon pyrosequencing method could be applicable to investigate Synechococcus diversity using sequences retrieved in GenBank and obtained from environmental samples. Allowing sequence analyses of a large number of samples, this high-throughput method would be useful to study global biodiversity and biogeographic patterns of Synechococcus in marine environments.
diversity; internal transcribed spacer (ITS); phylogeny; pyrosequencing; Synechococcus
The oceanic cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus are globally important, ecologically diverse primary producers. It is thought that their viruses (phages) mediate population sizes and affect the evolutionary trajectories of their hosts. Here we present an analysis of genomes from three Prochlorococcus phages: a podovirus and two myoviruses. The morphology, overall genome features, and gene content of these phages suggest that they are quite similar to T7-like (P-SSP7) and T4-like (P-SSM2 and P-SSM4) phages. Using the existing phage taxonomic framework as a guideline, we examined genome sequences to establish “core” genes for each phage group. We found the podovirus contained 15 of 26 core T7-like genes and the two myoviruses contained 43 and 42 of 75 core T4-like genes. In addition to these core genes, each genome contains a significant number of “cyanobacterial” genes, i.e., genes with significant best BLAST hits to genes found in cyanobacteria. Some of these, we speculate, represent “signature” cyanophage genes. For example, all three phage genomes contain photosynthetic genes (psbA, hliP) that are thought to help maintain host photosynthetic activity during infection, as well as an aldolase family gene (talC) that could facilitate alternative routes of carbon metabolism during infection. The podovirus genome also contains an integrase gene (int) and other features that suggest it is capable of integrating into its host. If indeed it is, this would be unprecedented among cultured T7-like phages or marine cyanophages and would have significant evolutionary and ecological implications for phage and host. Further, both myoviruses contain phosphate-inducible genes (phoH and pstS) that are likely to be important for phage and host responses to phosphate stress, a commonly limiting nutrient in marine systems. Thus, these marine cyanophages appear to be variations of two well-known phages—T7 and T4—but contain genes that, if functional, reflect adaptations for infection of photosynthetic hosts in low-nutrient oceanic environments.
An analysis of the genome sequences of three phages capable of infecting marine unicellular cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus reveals they are genetically complex with intriguing adaptations related to their oceanic environment
Cyanobacteria of the genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus play a key role in marine photosynthesis, which contributes to the global carbon cycle and to the world oxygen supply. Recently, genes encoding the photosystem II reaction center (psbA and psbD) were found in cyanophage genomes. This phenomenon suggested that the horizontal transfer of these genes may be involved in increasing phage fitness. To date, a very small percentage of marine bacteria and phages has been cultured. Thus, mapping genomic data extracted directly from the environment to its taxonomic origin is necessary for a better understanding of phage-host relationships and dynamics.
To achieve an accurate and rapid taxonomic classification, we employed a computational approach combining a multi-class Support Vector Machine (SVM) with a codon usage position specific scoring matrix (cuPSSM). Our method has been applied successfully to classify core-photosystem-II gene fragments, including partial sequences coming directly from the ocean, to seven different taxonomic classes. Applying the method on a large set of DNA and RNA psbA clones from the Mediterranean Sea, we studied the distribution of cyanobacterial psbA genes and transcripts in their natural environment. Using our approach, we were able to simultaneously examine taxonomic and ecological distributions in the marine environment.
The ability to accurately classify the origin of individual genes and transcripts coming directly from the environment is of great importance in studying marine ecology. The classification method presented in this paper could be applied further to classify other genes amplified from the environment, for which training data is available.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the two most abundant marine cyanobacteria. They represent a significant fraction of the total primary production of the world oceans and comprise a major fraction of the prey biomass available to phagotrophic protists. Despite relatively rapid growth rates, picocyanobacterial cell densities in open-ocean surface waters remain fairly constant, implying steady mortality due to viral infection and consumption by predators. There have been several studies on grazing by specific protists on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in culture, and of cell loss rates due to overall grazing in the field. However, the specific sources of mortality of these primary producers in the wild remain unknown. Here, we use a modification of the RNA stable isotope probing technique (RNA-SIP), which involves adding labelled cells to natural seawater, to identify active predators that are specifically consuming Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Four major groups were identified as having their 18S rRNA highly labelled: Prymnesiophyceae (Haptophyta), Dictyochophyceae (Stramenopiles), Bolidomonas (Stramenopiles) and Dinoflagellata (Alveolata). For the first three of these, the closest relative of the sequences identified was a photosynthetic organism, indicating the presence of mixotrophs among picocyanobacterial predators. We conclude that the use of RNA-SIP is a useful method to identity specific predators for picocyanobacteria in situ, and that the method could possibly be used to identify other bacterial predators important in the microbial food-web.
Community composition of Bacteria in the surface and deep water layers were examined at three oceanic sites in the Pacific Ocean separated by great distance, i.e., the South China Sea (SCS) in the western tropical Pacific, the Costa Rica Dome (CRD) in the eastern tropical Pacific and the western subarctic North Pacific (SNP), using high throughput DNA pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Bioinformatic analysis rendered a total of 143600 high quality sequences with an average 11967 sequences per sample and mean read length of 449 bp. Phylogenetic analysis showed that Proteobacteria dominated in all shallow and deep waters, with Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria the two most abundant components, and SAR11 the most abundant group at family level in all regions. Cyanobacteria occurred mainly in the surface euphotic layer, and the majority of them in the tropical waters belonged to the GpIIa family including Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, whilst those associated with Cryptophytes and diatoms were common in the subarctic waters. In general, species richness (Chao1) and diversity (Shannon index H′) were higher for the bacterial communities in the intermediate water layers than for those in surface and deep waters. Both NMDS plot and UPGMA clustering demonstrated that bacterial community composition in the deep waters (500 m ∼2000 m) of the three oceanic regions shared a high similarity and were distinct from those in the upper waters (5 m ∼100 m). Our study indicates that bacterial community composition in the DOC-poor deep water in both tropical and subarctic regions were rather stable, contrasting to those in the surface water layers, which could be strongly affected by the fluctuations of environmental factors.
Phylogenetic relationships among members of the marine Synechococcus genus were determined following sequencing of the 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) from 31 novel cultured isolates from the Red Sea and several other oceanic environments. This revealed a large genetic diversity within the marine Synechococcus cluster consistent with earlier work but also identified three novel clades not previously recognized. Phylogenetic analyses showed one clade, containing halotolerant isolates lacking phycoerythrin (PE) and including strains capable, or not, of utilizing nitrate as the sole N source, which clustered within the MC-A (Synechococcus subcluster 5.1) lineage. Two copies of the 16S rRNA gene are present in marine Synechococcus genomes, and cloning and sequencing of these copies from Synechococcus sp. strain WH 7803 and genomic information from Synechococcus sp. strain WH 8102 reveal these to be identical. Based on the 16S rDNA sequence information, clade-specific oligonucleotides for the marine Synechococcus genus were designed and their specificity was optimized. Using dot blot hybridization technology, these probes were used to determine the in situ community structure of marine Synechococcus populations in the Red Sea at the time of a Synechococcus maximum during April 1999. A predominance of genotypes representative of a single clade was found, and these genotypes were common among strains isolated into culture. Conversely, strains lacking PE, which were also relatively easily isolated into culture, represented only a minor component of the Synechococcus population. Genotypes corresponding to well-studied laboratory strains also appeared to be poorly represented in this stratified water column in the Red Sea.
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 phylogeny and taxonomy of cyanobacteria is currently poorly understood due to paucity of reliable markers for identification and circumscription of its major clades.
A combination of phylogenomic and protein signature based approaches was used to characterize the major clades of cyanobacteria. Phylogenetic trees were constructed for 44 cyanobacteria based on 44 conserved proteins. In parallel, Blastp searches were carried out on each ORF in the genomes of Synechococcus WH8102, Synechocystis PCC6803, Nostoc PCC7120, Synechococcus JA-3-3Ab, Prochlorococcus MIT9215 and Prochlor. marinus subsp. marinus CCMP1375 to identify proteins that are specific for various main clades of cyanobacteria. These studies have identified 39 proteins that are specific for all (or most) cyanobacteria and large numbers of proteins for other cyanobacterial clades. The identified signature proteins include: (i) 14 proteins for a deep branching clade (Clade A) of Gloebacter violaceus and two diazotrophic Synechococcus strains (JA-3-3Ab and JA2-3-B'a); (ii) 5 proteins that are present in all other cyanobacteria except those from Clade A; (iii) 60 proteins that are specific for a clade (Clade C) consisting of various marine unicellular cyanobacteria (viz. Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus); (iv) 14 and 19 signature proteins that are specific for the Clade C Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus strains, respectively; (v) 67 proteins that are specific for the Low B/A ecotype Prochlorococcus strains, containing lower ratio of chl b/a2 and adapted to growth at high light intensities; (vi) 65 and 8 proteins that are specific for the Nostocales and Chroococcales orders, respectively; and (vii) 22 and 9 proteins that are uniquely shared by various Nostocales and Oscillatoriales orders, or by these two orders and the Chroococcales, respectively. We also describe 3 conserved indels in flavoprotein, heme oxygenase and protochlorophyllide oxidoreductase proteins that are specific for either Clade C cyanobacteria or for various subclades of Prochlorococcus. Many other conserved indels for cyanobacterial clades have been described recently.
These signature proteins and indels provide novel means for circumscription of various cyanobacterial clades in clear molecular terms. Their functional studies should lead to discovery of novel properties that are unique to these groups of cyanobacteria.
The cyanobacteria are photosynthetic prokaryotes of significant ecological and biotechnological interest, since they strongly contribute to primary production and are a rich source of bioactive compounds. In eutrophic fresh and brackish waters, their mass occurrences (water blooms) are often toxic and constitute a high potential risk for human health. Therefore, rapid and reliable identification of cyanobacterial species in complex environmental samples is important. Here we describe the development and validation of a microarray for the identification of cyanobacteria in aquatic environments. Our approach is based on the use of a ligation detection reaction coupled to a universal array. Probes were designed for detecting 19 cyanobacterial groups including Anabaena/Aphanizomenon, Calothrix, Cylindrospermopsis, Cylindrospermum, Gloeothece, halotolerants, Leptolyngbya, Palau Lyngbya, Microcystis, Nodularia, Nostoc, Planktothrix, Antarctic Phormidium, Prochlorococcus, Spirulina, Synechococcus, Synechocystis, Trichodesmium, and Woronichinia. These groups were identified based on an alignment of over 300 cyanobacterial 16S rRNA sequences. For validation of the microarrays, 95 samples (24 axenic strains from culture collections, 27 isolated strains, and 44 cloned fragments recovered from environmental samples) were tested. The results demonstrated a high discriminative power and sensitivity to 1 fmol of the PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene. Accurate identification of target strains was also achieved with unbalanced mixes of PCR amplicons from different cyanobacteria and an environmental sample. Our universal array method shows great potential for rapid and reliable identification of cyanobacteria. It can be easily adapted to future development and could thus be applied both in research and environmental monitoring.
Our view of marine microbes is transforming, as culture-independent methods facilitate rapid characterization of microbial diversity. It is difficult to assimilate this information into our understanding of marine microbe ecology and evolution, because their distributions, traits, and genomes are shaped by forces that are complex and dynamic. Here we incorporate diverse forces—physical, biogeochemical, ecological, and mutational—into a global ocean model to study selective pressures on a simple trait in a widely distributed lineage of picophytoplankton: the nitrogen use abilities of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus cyanobacteria. Some Prochlorococcus ecotypes have lost the ability to use nitrate, whereas their close relatives, marine Synechococcus, typically retain it. We impose mutations for the loss of nitrogen use abilities in modeled picophytoplankton, and ask: in which parts of the ocean are mutants most disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate, and in which parts are they least disadvantaged? Our model predicts that this selective disadvantage is smallest for picophytoplankton that live in tropical regions where Prochlorococcus are abundant in the real ocean. Conversely, the selective disadvantage of losing the ability to use nitrate is larger for modeled picophytoplankton that live at higher latitudes, where Synechococcus are abundant. In regions where we expect Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations to cycle seasonally in the real ocean, we find that model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Prochlorococcus are less disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate than model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Synechococcus. The model predictions for the selective advantage associated with nitrate use are broadly consistent with the distribution of this ability among marine picocyanobacteria, and at finer scales, can provide insights into interactions between temporally varying ocean processes and selective pressures that may be difficult or impossible to study by other means. More generally, and perhaps more importantly, this study introduces an approach for testing hypotheses about the processes that underlie genetic variation among marine microbes, embedded in the dynamic physical, chemical, and biological forces that generate and shape this diversity.
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
Very little is known about the biodiversity of freshwater autotrophic picoplankton (APP) in the Laurentian Great Lakes, a system comprising 20% of the world's lacustrine freshwater. In this study, the genetic diversity of Lake Superior APP was examined by analyzing 16S rRNA gene and cpcBA PCR amplicons from water samples. By neighbor joining, the majority of 16S rRNA gene sequences clustered within the “picocyanobacterial clade” consisting of freshwater and marine Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus. Two new groups of Synechococcus spp., the pelagic Lake Superior clusters I and II, do not group with any of the known freshwater picocyanobacterial clusters and were the most abundant species (50 to 90% of the sequences) in samples collected from offshore Lake Superior stations. Conversely, at station Portage Deep (PD), located in a nearshore urbanized area, only 4% of the sequences belonged to these clusters and the remaining clones reflected the freshwater Synechococcus diversity described previously at sites throughout the world. Supporting the 16S rRNA gene data, the cpcBA library from nearshore station PD revealed a cosmopolitan diversity, whereas the majority of the cpcBA sequences (97.6%) from pelagic station CD1 fell within a unique Lake Superior cluster. Thus far, these picocyanobacteria have not been cultured, although their phylogenetic assignment suggests that they are phycoerythrin (PE) rich, consistent with the observation that PE-rich APP dominate Lake Superior picoplankton. Lastly, flow cytometry revealed that the summertime APP can exceed 105 cells ml−1 and suggests that the APP shifts from a community of PE and phycocyanin-rich picocyanobacteria and picoeukaryotes in winter to a PE-rich community in summer.