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.
Generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) – including superoxide (•O2−), hydrogen peroxide (HOOH), and hydroxyl radical (•OH) – has been suggested as one mechanism underlying the adverse health effects caused by ambient particulate matter (PM). In this study we compare HOOH and •OH production from fine and coarse PM collected at an urban (Fresno) and rural (Westside) site in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) of California, as well as from laboratory solutions containing dissolved copper or iron. Samples were extracted in a cell-free, phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) solution containing 50 μM ascorbate (Asc). In our laboratory solutions we find that Cu is a potent source of both HOOH and •OH, with approximately 90% of the electrons that can be donated from Asc ending up in HOOH and •OH after 4 h. In contrast, in Fe solutions there is no measurable HOOH and only a modest production of •OH. Soluble Cu in the SJV PM samples is also a dominant source of HOOH and •OH. In both laboratory copper solutions and extracts of ambient particles we find much more production of HOOH compared to •OH: e.g., HOOH generation is approximately 30 – 60 times faster than •OH generation. The formation of HOOH and •OH are positively correlated, with roughly 3 % and 8 % of HOOH converted to •OH after 4 and 24 hr of extraction, respectively. Although the SJV PM produce much more HOOH than •OH, since •OH is a much stronger oxidant it is unclear which species might be more important for oxidant-mediated toxicity from PM inhalation.
particulate matter (PM); reactive oxygen species (ROS); transition metals; copper; iron
Marine microbial communities are complex and dynamic, and their ecology impacts biogeochemical cycles in pelagic ecosystems. Yet, little is known about the relative activities of different microbial populations within genetically diverse communities. We used rRNA as a proxy for activity to quantify the relative specific activities (rRNA/ribosomal DNA [rDNA or rRNA genes]) of the eubacterial populations and to identify locations or clades for which there are uncouplings between specific activity and abundance. After analyzing 1.6 million sequences from 16S rDNA and rRNA (cDNA) libraries from two euphotic depths from a representative site in the Pacific Ocean, we show that although there is an overall positive relationship between the abundances (rDNAs) and activities (rRNAs) among populations of the bacterial community, for some populations these measures are uncoupled. Different ecological strategies are exemplified by the two numerically dominant clades at this site: the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is abundant but disproportionately more active, while the heterotrophic SAR11 is abundant but less active. Other rare populations, such as Alteromonas, have high specific activities in spite of their low abundances, suggesting intense population regulation. More detailed analyses using a complementary quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based approach of measuring relative specific activity for Prochlorococcus populations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans also show that specific activity, but not abundance, reflects the key drivers of light and nutrients in this system; our results also suggest substantial top-down regulation (e.g., grazing, viruses, or organismal interactions) or transport (e.g., mixing, immigration, or emigration) of these populations. Thus, we show here that abundance and specific activity can be uncoupled in open ocean systems and that describing both is critical to characterizing microbial communities and predicting marine ecosystem functioning and responses to change.
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 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.
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.
There are an estimated 1030 virioplankton in the world oceans, the majority of which are phages (viruses that infect bacteria). Marine phages encompass enormous genetic diversity, affect biogeochemical cycling of elements, and partially control aspects of prokaryotic production and diversity. Despite their importance, there is a paucity of data describing virioplankton distributions over time and depth in oceanic systems. A decade of high-resolution time-series data collected from the upper 300 m in the northwestern Sargasso Sea revealed recurring temporal and vertical patterns of virioplankton abundance in unprecedented detail. An annual virioplankton maximum developed between 60 and 100 m during periods of summer stratification and eroded during winter convective mixing. The timing and vertical positioning of this seasonal pattern was related to variability in water column stability and the dynamics of specific picophytoplankton and heterotrophic bacterioplankton lineages. Between 60 and 100 m, virioplankton abundance was negatively correlated to the dominant heterotrophic bacterioplankton lineage SAR11, as well as the less abundant picophytoplankton, Synechococcus. In contrast, virioplankton abundance was positively correlated to the dominant picophytoplankton lineage Prochlorococcus, and the less abundant alpha-proteobacteria, Rhodobacteraceae. Seasonally, virioplankton abundances were highly synchronous with Prochlorococcus distributions and the virioplankton to Prochlorococcus ratio remained remarkably constant during periods of water column stratification. The data suggest that a significant fraction of viruses in the mid-euphotic zone of the subtropical gyres may be cyanophages and patterns in their abundance are largely determined by Prochlorococcus dynamics in response to water column stability. This high-resolution, decadal survey of virioplankton abundance provides insight into the possible controls of virioplankton dynamics in the open ocean.
phage; BATS; FISH; Prochlorococcus; SAR11; Sargasso
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
Interactions between microorganisms shape microbial ecosystems. Systematic studies of mixed microbes in co-culture have revealed widespread potential for growth inhibition among marine heterotrophic bacteria, but similar synoptic studies have not been done with autotroph/heterotroph pairs, nor have precise descriptions of the temporal evolution of interactions been attempted in a high-throughput system. Here, we describe patterns in the outcome of pair-wise co-cultures between two ecologically distinct, yet closely related, strains of the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus and hundreds of heterotrophic marine bacteria. Co-culture with the collection of heterotrophic strains influenced the growth of Prochlorococcus strain MIT9313 much more than that of strain MED4, reflected both in the number of different types of interactions and in the magnitude of the effect of co-culture on various culture parameters. Enhancing interactions, where the presence of heterotrophic bacteria caused Prochlorococcus to grow faster and reach a higher final culture chlorophyll fluorescence, were much more common than antagonistic ones, and for a selected number of cases were shown to be mediated by diffusible compounds. In contrast, for one case at least, temporary inhibition of Prochlorococcus MIT9313 appeared to require close cellular proximity. Bacterial strains whose 16S gene sequences differed by 1–2% tended to have similar effects on MIT9313, suggesting that the patterns of inhibition and enhancement in co-culture observed here are due to phylogenetically cohesive traits of these heterotrophs.
heterotrophic bacteria; interactions; phylogeny; Prochlorococcus
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, 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.
The phytoplankton of the world's oceans play an integral part in global carbon cycling and food webs by conversion of carbon dioxide into organic carbon. They accomplish this task through the action of the Calvin cycle enzyme ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO). Here we have investigated the phylogenetic diversity in the form I rbcL locus in natural phytoplankton communities of the open ocean and representative clones of marine autotrophic picoplankton by mRNA or DNA amplification and sequencing of a 480 to 483 bp internal fragment of this gene. Five gene sequences were recovered from nucleic acids of natural phytoplankton communities of the Gulf of Mexico. The rbcL genes of two Prochlorococcus isolates and one Synechococcus strain (WH8007) were also sequenced. Sequences were aligned with the database of rbcL genes and subjected to both neighbor-joining and parsimony analyses. The five sequences from the natural phytoplankton community spanned nearly the entire diversity of characterized form I rbcL genes, with some sequences closely related to isolates such as Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus (forms IA and I) and prymnesiophyte algae (form ID), while other sequences were deeply rooted. Unexpectedly, the deep euphotic zone contained an organism that possesses a transcriptionally active rbcL gene closely related to that of a recently characterized manganese-oxidizing bacterium, suggesting that such chemoautotrophs may contribute to the diversity of carbon-fixing organisms in the marine euphotic zone.
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 characterization of global marine microbial taxonomic and functional diversity is a primary goal of the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition. As part of this study, 19 water samples were collected aboard the Sorcerer II sailing vessel from the southern Indian Ocean in an effort to more thoroughly understand the lifestyle strategies of the microbial inhabitants of this ultra-oligotrophic region. No investigations of whole virioplankton assemblages have been conducted on waters collected from the Indian Ocean or across multiple size fractions thus far. Therefore, the goals of this study were to examine the effect of size fractionation on viral consortia structure and function and understand the diversity and functional potential of the Indian Ocean virome. Five samples were selected for comprehensive metagenomic exploration; and sequencing was performed on the microbes captured on 3.0-, 0.8- and 0.1 µm membrane filters as well as the viral fraction (<0.1 µm). Phylogenetic approaches were also used to identify predicted proteins of viral origin in the larger fractions of data from all Indian Ocean samples, which were included in subsequent metagenomic analyses. Taxonomic profiling of viral sequences suggested that size fractionation of marine microbial communities enriches for specific groups of viruses within the different size classes and functional characterization further substantiated this observation. Functional analyses also revealed a relative enrichment for metabolic proteins of viral origin that potentially reflect the physiological condition of host cells in the Indian Ocean including those involved in nitrogen metabolism and oxidative phosphorylation. A novel classification method, MGTAXA, was used to assess virus-host relationships in the Indian Ocean by predicting the taxonomy of putative host genera, with Prochlorococcus, Acanthochlois and members of the SAR86 cluster comprising the most abundant predictions. This is the first study to holistically explore virioplankton dynamics across multiple size classes and provides unprecedented insight into virus diversity, metabolic potential and virus-host interactions.
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
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
Little is known about the abundance, distribution, and ecology of aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic (AAP) bacteria, particularly in oligotrophic environments, which represent 60% of the ocean. We investigated the abundance of AAP bacteria across the South Pacific Ocean, including the center of the gyre, the most oligotrophic water body of the world ocean. AAP bacteria, Prochlorococcus, and total prokaryotic abundances, as well as bacteriochlorophyll a (BChl a) and divinyl-chlorophyll a concentrations, were measured at several depths in the photic zone along a gradient of oligotrophic conditions. The abundances of AAP bacteria and Prochlorococcus were high, together accounting for up to 58% of the total prokaryotic community. The abundance of AAP bacteria alone was up to 1.94 × 105 cells ml−1 and as high as 24% of the overall community. These measurements were consistent with the high BChl a concentrations (up to 3.32 × 10−3 μg liter−1) found at all stations. However, the BChl a content per AAP bacterial cell was low, suggesting that AAP bacteria are mostly heterotrophic organisms. Interestingly, the biovolume and therefore biomass of AAP bacteria was on average twofold higher than that of other prokaryotic cells. This study demonstrates that AAP bacteria can be abundant in various oligotrophic conditions, including the most oligotrophic regime of the world ocean, and can account for a large part of the bacterioplanktonic carbon stock.
In an age of comparative microbial genomics, knowledge of the near-native architecture of microorganisms is essential for achieving an integrative understanding of physiology and function. We characterized and compared the three-dimensional architecture of the ecologically important cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus in a near-native state using cryo-electron tomography and found that closely related strains have diverged substantially in cellular organization and structure. By visualizing native, hydrated structures within cells, we discovered that the MED4 strain, which possesses one of the smallest genomes (1.66 Mbp) of any known photosynthetic organism, has evolved a comparatively streamlined cellular architecture. This strain possesses a smaller cell volume, an attenuated cell wall, and less extensive intracytoplasmic (photosynthetic) membrane system compared to the more deeply branched MIT9313 strain. Comparative genomic analyses indicate that differences have evolved in key structural genes, including those encoding enzymes involved in cell wall peptidoglycan biosynthesis. Although both strains possess carboxysomes that are polygonal and cluster in the central cytoplasm, the carboxysomes of MED4 are smaller. A streamlined cellular structure could be advantageous to microorganisms thriving in the low-nutrient conditions characteristic of large regions of the open ocean and thus have consequences for ecological niche differentiation. Through cryo-electron tomography we visualized, for the first time, the three-dimensional structure of the extensive network of photosynthetic lamellae within Prochlorococcus and the potential pathways for intracellular and intermembrane movement of molecules. Comparative information on the near-native structure of microorganisms is an important and necessary component of exploring microbial diversity and understanding its consequences for function and ecology.
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 marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus have been considered photoautotrophic microorganisms, although the utilization of exogenous sugars has never been specifically addressed in them. We studied glucose uptake in different high irradiance- and low irradiance-adapted Prochlorococcus strains, as well as the effect of glucose addition on the expression of several glucose-related genes. Glucose uptake was measured by adding radiolabelled glucose to Prochlorococcus cultures, followed by flow cytometry coupled with cell sorting in order to separate Prochlorococcus cells from bacterial contaminants. Sorted cells were recovered by filtration and their radioactivity measured. The expression, after glucose addition, of several genes (involved in glucose metabolism, and in nitrogen assimilation and its regulation) was determined in the low irradiance-adapted Prochlorococcus SS120 strain by semi-quantitative real time RT-PCR, using the rnpB gene as internal control. Our results demonstrate for the first time that the Prochlorococcus strains studied in this work take up glucose at significant rates even at concentrations close to those found in the oceans, and also exclude the possibility of this uptake being carried out by eventual bacterial contaminants, since only Prochlorococcus cells were used for radioactivity measurements. Besides, we show that the expression of a number of genes involved in glucose utilization (namely zwf, gnd and dld, encoding glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase and lactate dehydrogenase, respectively) is strongly increased upon glucose addition to cultures of the SS120 strain. This fact, taken together with the magnitude of the glucose uptake, clearly indicates the physiological importance of the phenomenon. Given the significant contribution of Prochlorococcus to the global primary production, these findings have strong implications for the understanding of the phytoplankton role in the carbon cycle in nature. Besides, the ability of assimilating carbon molecules could provide additional hints to comprehend the ecological success of Prochlorococcus.
The smallest genomes of any photosynthetic organisms are found in a group of free-living marine cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus. To determine the underlying evolutionary mechanisms, we developed a new method to reconstruct the steps leading to the Prochlorococcus genome reduction using 12 Prochlorococcus and 6 marine Synechococcus genomes. Our results reveal that small genome sizes within Prochlorococcus were largely determined shortly after the split of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus (an early big shrink) and thus for the first time decouple the genome reduction from Prochlorococcus diversification. A maximum likelihood approach was then used to estimate changes of nucleotide substitution rate and selection strength along Prochlorococcus evolution in a phylogenetic framework. Strong genome wide purifying selection was associated with the loss of many genes in the early evolutionary stage. The deleted genes were distributed around the genome, participated in many different functional categories and in general had been under relaxed selection pressure. We propose that shortly after Prochlorococcus diverged from its common ancestor with marine Synechococcus, its population size increased quickly thus increasing efficacy of selection. Due to limited nutrients and a relatively constant environment, selection favored a streamlined genome for maximum economy. Strong genome wide selection subsequently caused the loss of genes with small functional effect including the loss of some DNA repair genes. In summary, genome reduction in Prochlorococcus resulted in genome features that are similar to symbiotic bacteria and pathogens, however, the small genome sizes resulted from an increase in genome wide selection rather than a consequence of a reduced ecological niche or relaxed selection due to genetic drift.
Subtropical oceanic gyres are the most extensive biomes on Earth where SAR11 and Prochlorococcus bacterioplankton numerically dominate the surface waters depleted in inorganic macronutrients as well as in dissolved organic matter. In such nutrient poor conditions bacterioplankton could become photoheterotrophic, that is, potentially enhance uptake of scarce organic molecules using the available solar radiation to energise appropriate transport systems. Here, we assessed the photoheterotrophy of the key microbial taxa in the North Atlantic oligotrophic gyre and adjacent regions using 33P-ATP, 3H-ATP and 35S-methionine tracers. Light-stimulated uptake of these substrates was assessed in two dominant bacterioplankton groups discriminated by flow cytometric sorting of tracer-labelled cells and identified using catalysed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridisation. One group of cells, encompassing 48% of all bacterioplankton, were identified as members of the SAR11 clade, whereas the other group (24% of all bacterioplankton) was Prochlorococcus. When exposed to light, SAR11 cells took 31% more ATP and 32% more methionine, whereas the Prochlorococcus cells took 33% more ATP and 34% more methionine. Other bacterioplankton did not demonstrate light stimulation. Thus, the SAR11 and Prochlorococcus groups, with distinctly different light-harvesting mechanisms, used light equally to enhance, by approximately one-third, the uptake of different types of organic molecules. Our findings indicate the significance of light-driven uptake of essential organic nutrients by the dominant bacterioplankton groups in the surface waters of one of the less productive, vast regions of the world's oceans—the oligotrophic North Atlantic subtropical gyre.
SAR11; Prochlorococcus; light stimulation; flow cytometric sorting; radioisotope tracing; ATP and amino-acid uptake
Summary: Marine picocyanobacteria of the genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus numerically dominate the picophytoplankton of the world ocean, making a key contribution to global primary production. Prochlorococcus was isolated around 20 years ago and is probably the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth. The genus comprises specific ecotypes which are phylogenetically distinct and differ markedly in their photophysiology, allowing growth over a broad range of light and nutrient conditions within the 45°N to 40°S latitudinal belt that they occupy. Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus are closely related, together forming a discrete picophytoplankton clade, but are distinguishable by their possession of dissimilar light-harvesting apparatuses and differences in cell size and elemental composition. Synechococcus strains have a ubiquitous oceanic distribution compared to that of Prochlorococcus strains and are characterized by phylogenetically discrete lineages with a wide range of pigmentation. In this review, we put our current knowledge of marine picocyanobacterial genomics into an environmental context and present previously unpublished genomic information arising from extensive genomic comparisons in order to provide insights into the adaptations of these marine microbes to their environment and how they are reflected at the genomic level.
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
Exposure to solar radiation can cause mortality in natural communities of pico-phytoplankton, both at the surface and to a depth of at least 30 m. DNA damage is a significant cause of death, mainly due to cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer formation, which can be lethal if not repaired. While developing a UV mutagenesis protocol for the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, we isolated a UV-hyper-resistant variant of high light-adapted strain MED4. The hyper-resistant strain was constitutively upregulated for expression of the mutT-phrB operon, encoding nudix hydrolase and photolyase, both of which are involved in repair of DNA damage that can be caused by UV light. Photolyase (PhrB) breaks pyrimidine dimers typically caused by UV exposure, using energy from visible light in the process known as photoreactivation. Nudix hydrolase (MutT) hydrolyses 8-oxo-dGTP, an aberrant form of GTP that results from oxidizing conditions, including UV radiation, thus impeding mispairing and mutagenesis by preventing incorporation of the aberrant form into DNA. These processes are error-free, in contrast to error-prone SOS dark repair systems that are widespread in bacteria. The UV-hyper-resistant strain contained only a single mutation: a 1 bp deletion in the intergenic region directly upstream of the mutT-phrB operon. Two subsequent enrichments for MED4 UV-hyper-resistant strains from MED4 wild-type cultures gave rise to strains containing this same 1 bp deletion, affirming its connection to the hyper-resistant phenotype. These results have implications for Prochlorococcus DNA repair mechanisms, genome stability and possibly lysogeny.