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1.  Involvement of the cynABDS Operon and the CO2-Concentrating Mechanism in the Light-Dependent Transport and Metabolism of Cyanate by Cyanobacteria▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;189(3):1013-1024.
The cyanobacteria Synechococcus elongatus strain PCC7942 and Synechococcus sp. strain UTEX625 decomposed exogenously supplied cyanate (NCO−) to CO2 and NH3 through the action of a cytosolic cyanase which required HCO3− as a second substrate. The ability to metabolize NCO− relied on three essential elements: proteins encoded by the cynABDS operon, the biophysical activity of the CO2-concentrating mechanism (CCM), and light. Inactivation of cynS, encoding cyanase, and cynA yielded mutants unable to decompose cyanate. Furthermore, loss of CynA, the periplasmic binding protein of a multicomponent ABC-type transporter, resulted in loss of active cyanate transport. Competition experiments revealed that native transport systems for CO2, HCO3−, NO3−, NO2−, Cl−, PO42−, and SO42− did not contribute to the cellular flux of NCO− and that CynABD did not contribute to the flux of these nutrients, implicating CynABD as a novel primary active NCO− transporter. In the S. elongatus strain PCC7942 ΔchpX ΔchpY mutant that is defective in the full expression of the CCM, mass spectrometry revealed that the cellular rate of cyanate decomposition depended upon the size of the internal inorganic carbon (Ci) (HCO3− + CO2) pool. Unlike wild-type cells, the rate of NCO− decomposition by the ΔchpX ΔchpY mutant was severely depressed at low external Ci concentrations, indicating that the CCM was essential in providing HCO3− for cyanase under typical growth conditions. Light was required to activate and/or energize the active transport of both NCO− and Ci. Putative cynABDS operons were identified in the genomes of diverse Proteobacteria, suggesting that CynABDS-mediated cyanate metabolism is not restricted to cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC1797288  PMID: 17122352
2.  A physiological role for cyanate-induced carbonic anhydrase in Escherichia coli. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1993;175(5):1443-1451.
Cyanate induces expression of the cyn operon in Escherichia coli. The cyn operon includes the gene cynS, encoding cyanase, which catalyzes the reaction of cyanate with bicarbonate to give ammonia and carbon dioxide. A carbonic anhydrase activity was recently found to be encoded by the cynT gene, the first gene of the cyn operon; it was proposed that carbonic anhydrase prevents depletion of bicarbonate during cyanate decomposition due to loss of CO2 by diffusion out of the cell (M. B. Guilloton, J. J. Korte, A. F. Lamblin, J. A. Fuchs, and P. M. Anderson, J. Biol. Chem. 267:3731-3734, 1992). The function of the product of the third gene of this operon, cynX, is unknown. In the study reported here, the physiological roles of cynT and cynX were investigated by construction of chromosomal mutants in which each of the three genes was rendered inactive. The delta cynT chromosomal mutant expressed an active cyanase but no active carbonic anhydrase. In contrast to the wild-type strain, the growth of the delta cynT strain was inhibited by cyanate, and the mutant strain was unable to degrade cyanate and therefore could not use cyanate as the sole nitrogen source when grown at a partial CO2 pressures (pCO2) of 0.03% (air). At a high pCO2 (3%), however, the delta cynT strain behaved like the wild-type strain; it was significantly less sensitive to the toxic effects of cyanate and could degrade cyanate and use cyanate as the sole nitrogen source for growth. These results are consistent with the proposed function for carbonic anhydrase. The chromosomal mutant carrying cynS::kan expressed induced carbonic anhydrase activity but no active cyanase. The cynS::kan mutant was found to be much less sensitive to cyanate than the delta cynT mutant at a low pCO2, indicating that bicarbonate depletion due to the reaction of bicarbonate with cyanate catalyzed by cyanase is more deleterious to growth than direct inhibition by cyanate. Mutants carrying a nonfunctional cynX gene (cynX::kan and delta cynT cynX::kan) did not differ from the parental strains with respect to cyanate sensitivity, presence of carbonic anhydrase and cyanase, or degradation of cyanate by whole cells; the physiological role of the cynX product remains unknown.
PMCID: PMC193231  PMID: 8444806
3.  Identification and nitrogen regulation of the cyanase gene from the cyanobacteria Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 and Synechococcus sp. strain PCC 7942. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(18):5744-5750.
An open reading frame (slr0899) on the genome of Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 encodes a polypeptide of 149 amino acid residues, the sequence of which is 40% identical to that of cyanase from Escherichia coli. Introduction into a cyanase-deficient E. coli strain of a plasmid-borne slr0899 resulted in expression of low but significant activity of cyanase. Targeted interruption of a homolog of slr0899 from Synechococcus sp. strain PCC 7942, encoding a protein 77% identical to that encoded by slr0899, resulted in loss of cellular cyanase activity. These results indicated that slr0899 and its homolog in the strain PCC 7942 represent the cyanobacterial cyanase gene (designated cynS). While cynS of strain PCC 6803 is tightly clustered with the four putative molybdenum cofactor biosynthesis genes located downstream, cynS of strain PCC 7942 was found to be tightly clustered with the two genes located upstream, which encode proteins similar to the subunits of the cyanobacterial nitrate-nitrite transporter. In both strains, cynS was transcribed as a part of a large transcription unit and the transcription was negatively regulated by ammonium. Cyanase activity was low in ammonium-grown cells and was induced 7- to 13-fold by inhibition of ammonium fixation or by transfer of the cells to ammonium-free media. These findings indicated that cyanase is an ammonium-repressible enzyme in cyanobacteria, the expression of which is regulated at the level of transcription. Similar to other ammonium-repressible genes in cyanobacteria, expression of cynS required NtcA, a global nitrogen regulator of cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC179462  PMID: 9294430
4.  Characterization of the Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes CECT5344 Cyanase, an Enzyme That Is Not Essential for Cyanide Assimilation▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(20):6280-6288.
Cyanase catalyzes the decomposition of cyanate into CO2 and ammonium, with carbamate as an unstable intermediate. The cyanase of Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes CECT5344 was negatively regulated by ammonium and positively regulated by cyanate, cyanide, and some cyanometallic complexes. Cyanase activity was not detected in cell extracts from cells grown with ammonium, even in the presence of cyanate. Nevertheless, a low level of cyanase activity was detected in nitrogen-starved cells. The cyn gene cluster of P. pseudoalcaligenes CECT5344 was cloned and analyzed. The cynA, cynB, and cynD genes encode an ABC-type transporter, the cynS gene codes for the cyanase, and the cynF gene encodes a novel σ54-dependent transcriptional regulator which is not present in other bacterial cyn gene clusters. The CynS protein was expressed in Escherichia coli and purified by following a simple and rapid protocol. The P. pseudoalcaligenes cyanase showed an optimal pH of 8.5°C and a temperature of 65°C. An insertion mutation was generated in the cynS gene. The resulting mutant was unable to use cyanate as the sole nitrogen source but showed the same resistance to cyanate as the wild-type strain. These results, in conjunction with the induction pattern of the enzymatic activity, suggest that the enzyme has an assimilatory function. Although the induction of cyanase activity in cyanide-degrading cells suggests that some cyanate may be generated from cyanide, the cynS mutant was not affected in its ability to degrade cyanide, which unambiguously indicates that cyanate is not a central metabolite in cyanide assimilation.
PMCID: PMC2570302  PMID: 18708510
5.  Role of bicarbonate/CO2 in the inhibition of Escherichia coli growth by cyanate. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1995;177(11):3213-3219.
Cyanase is an inducible enzyme in Escherichia coli that catalyzes the reaction of cyanate with bicarbonate to give two CO2 molecules. The gene for cyanase is part of the cyn operon, which includes cynT and cynS, encoding carbonic anhydrase and cyanase, respectively. Carbonic anhydrase functions to prevent depletion of cellular bicarbonate during cyanate decomposition (the product CO2 can diffuse out of the cell faster than noncatalyzed hydration back to bicarbonate). Addition of cyanate to the culture medium of a delta cynT mutant strain of E. coli (having a nonfunctional carbonic anhydrase) results in depletion of cellular bicarbonate, which leads to inhibition of growth and an inability to catalyze cyanate degradation. These effects can be overcome by aeration with a higher partial CO2 pressure (M. B. Guilloton, A. F. Lamblin, E. I. Kozliak, M. Gerami-Nejad, C. Tu, D. Silverman, P. M. Anderson, and J. A. Fuchs, J. Bacteriol. 175:1443-1451, 1993). The question considered here is why depletion of bicarbonate/CO2 due to the action of cyanase on cyanate in a delta cynT strain has such an inhibitory effect. Growth of wild-type E. coli in minimal medium under conditions of limited CO2 was severely inhibited, and this inhibition could be overcome by adding certain Krebs cycle intermediates, indicating that one consequence of limiting CO2 is inhibition of carboxylation reactions. However, supplementation of the growth medium with metabolites whose syntheses are known to depend on a carboxylation reaction was not effective in overcoming inhibition related to the bicarbonate deficiency induced in the delta cynT strain by addition of cyanate. Similar results were obtained with a deltacyn strain (since cyanase is absent, this strain does not develop a bicarbonate deficiency when cyanate is added); however, as with the deltacynT strain, a higher partial CO(2) pressure in the aerating gas or expression of carbonic anhydrase activity (which contributes to a higher intercellular concentration of bicarbonate/CO(2)) significantly reduced inhibition of growth. There appears to be competition between cyanate and bicarbonate/CO(2) at some unknown but very important site such that cyanate binding inhibits growth. These results suggest that bicarbonate/CO(2) plays a significant role in the growth of E. coli other than simply as a substrate for carboxylation reactions and that strains with mutations in the cyn operon provide a unique model system for studying aspects of the metabolism of bicarbonate/CO(2) and its regulation in bacteria.
PMCID: PMC177013  PMID: 7768821
6.  Expression of proteins encoded by the Escherichia coli cyn operon: carbon dioxide-enhanced degradation of carbonic anhydrase. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1994;176(18):5711-5717.
Cyanase catalyzes the reaction of cyanate with bicarbonate to give 2CO2. The cynS gene encoding cyanase, together with the cynT gene for carbonic anhydrase, is part of the cyn operon, the expression of which is induced in Escherichia coli by cyanate. The physiological role of carbonic anhydrase is to prevent depletion of cellular bicarbonate during cyanate decomposition due to loss of CO2 (M.B. Guilloton, A.F. Lamblin, E. I. Kozliak, M. Gerami-Nejad, C. Tu, D. Silverman, P.M. Anderson, and J.A. Fuchs, J. Bacteriol. 175:1443-1451, 1993). A delta cynT mutant strain was extremely sensitive to inhibition of growth by cyanate and did not catalyze decomposition of cyanate (even though an active cyanase was expressed) when grown at a low pCO2 (in air) but had a Cyn+ phenotype at a high pCO2. Here the expression of these two enzymes in this unusual system for cyanate degradation was characterized in more detail. Both enzymes were found to be located in the cytosol and to be present at approximately equal levels in the presence of cyanate. A delta cynT mutant strain could be complemented with high levels of expressed human carbonic anhydrase II; however, the mutant defect was not completely abolished, perhaps because the E. coli carbonic anhydrase is significantly less susceptible to inhibition by cyanate than mammalian carbonic anhydrases. The induced E. coli carbonic anhydrase appears to be particularly adapted to its function in cyanate degradation. Active cyanase remained in cells grown in the presence of either low or high pCO2 after the inducer cyanate was depleted; in contrast, carbonic anhydrase protein was degraded very rapidly (minutes) at a high pCO2 but much more slowly (hours) at a low pCO2. A physiological significance of these observations is suggested by the observation that expression of carbonic anhydrase at a high pCO2 decreased the growth rate.
PMCID: PMC196775  PMID: 8083164
7.  Characterization of high-level expression and sequencing of the Escherichia coli K-12 cynS gene encoding cyanase. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1987;169(11):5224-5230.
Restriction fragments containing the gene encoding cyanase, cynS, without its transcriptional regulatory sequences were placed downstream of lac and tac promoters in various pUC derivatives to maximize production of cyanase. Plasmid pSJ105, which contains the cynS gene and an upstream open reading frame, gave the highest expression of cyanase. Approximately 50% of the total soluble protein in stationary-phase cultures of a lac-deleted strain containing plasmid pSJ105 was cyanase. The inserted DNA fragment of pSJ105 was transferred into pUC18 derivatives that contain a hybrid tac promoter, instead of the lac promoter, and a strong terminator to generate pSJ124. Stationary-phase cultures of JM101 containing plasmid pSJ124 overexpressed a similar level of cyanase. In JM101(pSJ124), maximum production of cyanase could be obtained either by induction with isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG) for 3 h or by growth without IPTG into late stationary phase. The latter conditions resulted in a 10- to 20-fold increase in plasmid content and presumably titration of the lac repressor. The nucleotide sequence of the cloned cynS gene from Escherichia coli K-12 was determined. The predicted amino acid sequence differed from the known amino acid sequence of cyanase isolated from a B strain by four residues. However, overexpressed cyanase was purified to homogeneity, and a comparison of the enzymes from the two sources indicated that they did not differ with respect to physical and kinetic properties. The cynS gene was located next to the lac operon, and the direction of cynS transcription was opposite that of lac.
PMCID: PMC213930  PMID: 2822670
8.  Biochemical and Structural Properties of Cyanases from Arabidopsis thaliana and Oryza sativa 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e18300.
Cyanate is toxic to all organisms. Cyanase converts cyanate to CO2 and NH3 in a bicarbonate-dependent reaction. The biophysical functions and biochemical characteristics of plant cyanases are poorly studied, although it has been investigated in a variety of proteobacteria, cyanobacteria and fungi. In this study, we characterised plant cyanases from Arabidopsis thaliana and Oryza sativa (AtCYN and OsCYN). Prokaryotic-expressed AtCYN and OsCYN both showed cyanase activity in vitro. Temperature had a similar influence on the activity of both cyanases, but pH had a differential impact on AtCYN and OsCYN activity. Homology modelling provided models of monomers of AtCYN and OsCYN, and a coimmunoprecipitation assay and gel filtration indicated that AtCYN and OsCYN formed homodecamers. The analysis of single-residue mutants of AtCYN indicated that the conserved catalytic residues also contributed to the stability of the homodecamer. KCNO treatment inhibited Arabidopsis germination and early seedling growth. Plants containing AtCYN or OsCYN exhibited resistance to KCNO stress, which demonstrated that one role of cyanases in plants is detoxification. Transcription level of AtCYN was higher in the flower than in other organs of Arabidopsis. AtCYN transcription was not significantly affected by KCNO treatment in Arabidopsis, but was induced by salt stress. This research broadens our knowledge on plant detoxification of cyanate via cyanase.
PMCID: PMC3070753  PMID: 21494323
9.  Identification and characterization of a cyanate permease in Escherichia coli K-12. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1989;171(9):4674-4678.
Escherichia coli contains an inducible enzyme, cyanase, that catalyzes the decomposition of cyanate into ammonia and bicarbonate. The gene encoding cyanase, cynS, was cloned and found to be on a DNA fragment that contained the lac operon. Characterization of a plasmid encoding cyanase indicated that a 26-kilodalton (kDa) protein of unknown function was also induced by cyanate (Y-C. Sung, D. Parsell, P.M. Anderson, and J.A. Fuchs, J. Bacteriol. 169:2639-2642, 1987). The gene encoding the 26-kDa protein was located between cynS and its promoter, indicating the existence of a cyn operon. The 26-kDa protein was identified as a cyanate permease that transports exogenous cyanate by active transport. E. coli was shown to contain a cyanate transport system that is energy dependent and saturable by cyanate.
PMCID: PMC210266  PMID: 2670891
10.  Identification, mapping, and cloning of the gene encoding cyanase in Escherichia coli K-12. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1987;169(6):2639-2642.
The gene in Escherichia coli for cyanase, designated cynS, was localized to a BglII restriction site approximately 1.7 kilobases from the lacA end of the lac operon. The gene was cloned into the pUC13 vector. Maxicell analysis of plasmid-encoded proteins confirmed that the BglII site is in the region encoding the structural gene for cyanase. Cyanase-deficient strains had increased sensitivity to cyanate and were not able to use cyanate as a nitrogen source.
PMCID: PMC212143  PMID: 3034861
11.  Nitrite Transport Activity of the ABC-Type Cyanate Transporter of the Cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(10):3265-3272.
In addition to the ATP-binding cassette (ABC)-type nitrate/nitrite-bispecific transporter, which has a high affinity for both substrates (Km, ∼1 μM), Synechococcus elongatus has an active nitrite transport system with an apparent Km (NO2−) value of 20 μM. We found that this activity depends on the cynABD genes, which encode a putative cyanate (NCO−) ABC-type transporter. Accordingly, nitrite transport by CynABD was competitively inhibited by NCO− with a Ki value of 0.025 μM. The transporter was induced under conditions of nitrogen deficiency, and the induced cells showed a Vmax value of 11 to 13 μmol/mg of chlorophyll per h for cyanate or nitrite, which could supply ∼30% of the amount of nitrogen required for optimum growth. Its relative specificity for the substrates and regulation at transcriptional and posttranslational levels suggested that the physiological role of the bispecific cyanate/nitrite transporter in S. elongatus is to allow nitrogen-deficient cells to assimilate low concentrations of cyanate in the medium. Its contribution to nitrite assimilation was significant in a mutant lacking the ABC-type nitrate/nitrite transporter, suggesting a possible role for CynABD in nitrite assimilation by cyanobacterial species that lack another high-affinity mechanism(s) for nitrite transport.
PMCID: PMC2687164  PMID: 19286804
12.  Comparative genomics of Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii strains with differential toxicities 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:83.
Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii is an invasive filamentous freshwater cyanobacterium, some strains of which produce toxins. Sporadic toxicity may be the result of gene deletion events, the horizontal transfer of toxin biosynthesis gene clusters, or other genomic variables, yet the evolutionary drivers for cyanotoxin production remain a mystery. Through examining the genomes of toxic and non-toxic strains of C. raciborskii, we hoped to gain a better understanding of the degree of similarity between these strains of common geographical origin, and what the primary differences between these strains might be. Additionally, we hoped to ascertain why some cyanobacteria possess the cylindrospermopsin biosynthesis (cyr) gene cluster and produce toxin, while others do not. It has been hypothesised that toxicity or lack thereof might confer a selective advantage to cyanobacteria under certain environmental conditions.
In order to examine the fundamental differences between toxic and non-toxic C. raciborskii strains, we sequenced the genomes of two closely related isolates, CS-506 (CYN+) and CS-509 (CYN-) sourced from different lakes in tropical Queensland, Australia. These genomes were then compared to a third (reference) genome from C. raciborskii CS-505 (CYN+). Genome sizes were similar across all three strains and their G + C contents were almost identical. At least 2,767 genes were shared among all three strains, including the taxonomically important rpoc1, ssuRNA, lsuRNA, cpcA, cpcB, nifB and nifH, which exhibited 99.8-100% nucleotide identity. Strains CS-506 and CS-509 contained at least 176 and 101 strain-specific (or non-homologous) genes, respectively, most of which were associated with DNA repair and modification, nutrient uptake and transport, or adaptive measures such as osmoregulation. However, the only significant genetic difference observed between the two strains was the presence or absence of the cylindrospermopsin biosynthesis gene cluster. Interestingly, we also identified a cryptic secondary metabolite gene cluster in strain CS-509 (CYN-) and a second cryptic cluster common to CS-509 and the reference strain, CS-505 (CYN+).
Our results confirm that the most important factor contributing to toxicity in C. raciborskii is the presence or absence of the cyr gene cluster. We did not identify any other distally encoded genes or gene clusters that correlate with CYN production. The fact that the additional genomic differences between toxic and non-toxic strains were primarily associated with stress and adaptation genes suggests that CYN production may be linked to these physiological processes.
PMCID: PMC3922686  PMID: 24476316
Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii; Cylindrospermopsin; Cyanobacteria; Comparative genomics
13.  Nitrogen Limitation Promotes Accumulation and Suppresses Release of Cylindrospermopsins in Cells of Aphanizomenon Sp. 
Toxins  2014;6(10):2932-2947.
As the biosynthesis of cylindrospermopsin (CYN) is assumed to depend on nitrogen availability, this study investigated the impact of nitrogen availability on intra- and extracellular CYN and deoxy-CYN (D-CYN) contents in three Aphanizomenon strains from temperate waters. Nitrogen deficient (−N) cultures showed a prolonged growth phase and intracellular toxin accumulation by a factor of 2–6. In contrast, cultures with additional nitrate supply (+N) did not accumulate CYN within the cells. Instead, the maximum conceivable CYN release estimated for dead cells (identified by SYTOX® Green staining) was much lower than the concentrations of dissolved CYN actually observed, suggesting these cultures actively release CYN from intact cells. Furthermore, we found remarkably altered proportions of CYN to D-CYN: as batch cultures grew, the proportion of D-CYN increased by up to 40% in +N medium, whereas D-CYN remained constant or decreased slightly in −N medium. Since +N cultures showed similar toxin patterns as −P cultures with increased extracellular CYNs and higher proportion of D-CYN we conclude that nitrogen limitation may affect the way the cells economize resources, especially the yield from phosphorus pools, and that this has an impact on CYN production and release. For water management, these result imply that nutrient availability not only determines the abundance of potentially CYN-producing cyanobacteria, but also the amount of extracellular CYNs (challenging drinking-water treatment) as well as the ratio of D-CYN to CYN (affecting toxicity).
PMCID: PMC4210877  PMID: 25271784
Aphanizomenon; cylindrospermopsin; cyanobacteria; deoxy-cylindrospermopsin; release; production
14.  Signature proteins for the major clades of Cyanobacteria 
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.
PMCID: PMC2823733  PMID: 20100331
15.  Aphanizomenon gracile (Nostocales), a cylindrospermopsin-producing cyanobacterium in Polish lakes 
The cyanobacterial cytotoxin cylindrospermopsin (CYN) has become increasingly common in fresh waters worldwide. It was originally isolated from Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii in Australia; however, in European waters, its occurrence is associated with other cyanobacterial species belonging to the genera Aphanizomenon and Anabaena. Moreover, cylindrospermopsin-producing strains of widely distributed C. raciborskii have not yet been observed in European waters. The aims of this work were to assess the occurrence of CYN in lakes of western Poland and to identify the CYN producers. The ELISA tests, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)-DAD, and HPLC-mass spectrometry (MS)/MS were conducted to assess the occurrence of CYN in 36 lakes. The cyrJ, cyrA, and pks genes were amplified to identify toxigenic genotypes of cyanobacteria that are capable of producing CYN. The toxicity and toxigenicity of the C. raciborskii and Aphanizomenon gracile strains isolated from the studied lakes were examined. Overall, CYN was detected in 13 lakes using HPLC-MS/MS, and its concentrations varied from trace levels to 3.0 μg L−1. CYN was widely observed in lakes of western Poland during the whole summer under different environmental conditions. Mineral forms of nutrients and temperature were related to CYN production. The molecular studies confirmed the presence of toxigenic cyanobacterial populations in all of the samples where CYN was detected. The toxicity and toxigenicity analyses of isolated cyanobacteria strains revealed that A. gracile was the major producer of CYN.
PMCID: PMC3713259  PMID: 23378259
Aphanizomenon gracile; Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii; Cyanotoxins; Cylindrospermopsin; cyrA; cyrJ; pks; Toxicity; Lakes
16.  Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Toxin-Producing Cyanobacterium Aphanizomenon gracile in Northeast Germany▿ †  
Neurotoxic paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins, anatoxin-a (ATX), and hepatotoxic cylindrospermopsin (CYN) have been detected in several lakes in northeast Germany during the last 2 decades. They are produced worldwide by members of the nostocalean genera Anabaena, Cylindrospermopsis, and Aphanizomenon. Although no additional sources of PSP toxins and ATX have been identified in German water bodies to date, the observed CYN concentrations cannot be produced solely by Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, the only known CYN producer in Germany. Therefore, we attempted to identify PSP toxin, ATX, and CYN producers by isolating and characterizing 92 Anabaena, Aphanizomenon, and Anabaenopsis strains from five lakes in northeast Germany. In a polyphasic approach, all strains were morphologically and phylogenetically classified and then tested for PSP toxins, ATX, and CYN by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and screened for the presence of PSP toxin- and CYN-encoding gene fragments. As demonstrated by ELISA and LC-MS, 14 Aphanizomenon gracile strains from Lakes Melang and Scharmützel produced four PSP toxin variants (gonyautoxin 5 [GTX5], decarbamoylsaxitoxin [dcSTX], saxitoxin [STX], and neosaxitoxin [NEO]). GTX5 was the most prevalent PSP toxin variant among the seven strains from Lake Scharmützel, and NEO was the most prevalent among the seven strains from Lake Melang. The sxtA gene, which is part of the saxitoxin gene cluster, was found in the 14 PSP toxin-producing A. gracile strains and in 11 non-PSP toxin-producing Aphanizomenon issatschenkoi, A. flos-aquae, Anabaena planktonica, and Anabaenopsis elenkinii strains. ATX and CYN were not detected in any of the isolated strains. This study is the first confirming the role of A. gracile as a PSP toxin producer in German water bodies.
PMCID: PMC2820976  PMID: 20048055
17.  Intertwined Evolutionary Histories of Marine Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus marinus 
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.
PMCID: PMC2817427  PMID: 20333202
marine cyanobacteria; horizontal gene transfer; introgression; quartet decomposition; supertree; genome evolution
18.  Impact of Nitrogen Sources on Gene Expression and Toxin Production in the Diazotroph Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii CS-505 and Non-Diazotroph Raphidiopsis brookii D9 
Toxins  2014;6(6):1896-1915.
Different environmental nitrogen sources play selective roles in the development of cyanobacterial blooms and noxious effects are often exacerbated when toxic cyanobacteria are dominant. Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii CS-505 (heterocystous, nitrogen fixing) and Raphidiopsis brookii D9 (non-N2 fixing) produce the nitrogenous toxins cylindrospermopsin (CYN) and paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs), respectively. These toxin groups are biosynthesized constitutively by two independent putative gene clusters, whose flanking genes are target for nitrogen (N) regulation. It is not yet known how or if toxin biosynthetic genes are regulated, particularly by N-source dependency. Here we show that binding boxes for NtcA, the master regulator of N metabolism, are located within both gene clusters as potential regulators of toxin biosynthesis. Quantification of intra- and extracellular toxin content in cultures at early stages of growth under nitrate, ammonium, urea and N-free media showed that N-sources influence neither CYN nor PST production. However, CYN and PST profiles were altered under N-free medium resulting in a decrease in the predicted precursor toxins (doCYN and STX, respectively). Reduced STX amounts were also observed under growth in ammonium. Quantification of toxin biosynthesis and transport gene transcripts revealed a constitutive transcription under all tested N-sources. Our data support the hypothesis that PSTs and CYN are constitutive metabolites whose biosynthesis is correlated to cyanobacterial growth rather than directly to specific environmental conditions. Overall, the constant biosynthesis of toxins and expression of the putative toxin-biosynthesis genes supports the usage of qPCR probes in water quality monitoring of toxic cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC4073136  PMID: 24956074
cyanobacteria; Cylindrospermopsis; Raphidiopsis; cylindrospermopsin; saxitoxin; nitrogen; gene expression
19.  Two Strains of Crocosphaera watsonii with Highly Conserved Genomes are Distinguished by Strain-Specific Features 
Unicellular nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria are important components of marine phytoplankton. Although non-nitrogen-fixing marine phytoplankton generally exhibit high gene sequence and genomic diversity, gene sequences of natural populations and isolated strains of Crocosphaera watsonii, one of the two most abundant open ocean unicellular cyanobacteria groups, have been shown to be 98–100% identical. The low sequence diversity in Crocosphaera is a dramatic contrast to sympatric species of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, and raises the question of how genome differences can explain observed phenotypic diversity among Crocosphaera strains. Here we show, through whole genome comparisons of two phenotypically different strains, that there are strain-specific sequences in each genome, and numerous genome rearrangements, despite exceptionally low sequence diversity in shared genomic regions. Some of the strain-specific sequences encode functions that explain observed phenotypic differences, such as exopolysaccharide biosynthesis. The pattern of strain-specific sequences distributed throughout the genomes, along with rearrangements in shared sequences is evidence of significant genetic mobility that may be attributed to the hundreds of transposase genes found in both strains. Furthermore, such genetic mobility appears to be the main mechanism of strain divergence in Crocosphaera which do not accumulate DNA microheterogeneity over the vast majority of their genomes. The strain-specific sequences found in this study provide tools for future physiological studies, as well as genetic markers to help determine the relative abundance of phenotypes in natural populations.
PMCID: PMC3247675  PMID: 22232617
comparative genomics; Crocosphaera; exopolysaccharide biosynthesis; genome conservation; mobile genetic elements; nitrogen fixation
20.  Horizontal transfer of a eukaryotic plastid-targeted protein gene to cyanobacteria 
BMC Biology  2007;5:26.
Horizontal or lateral transfer of genetic material between distantly related prokaryotes has been shown to play a major role in the evolution of bacterial and archaeal genomes, but exchange of genes between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is not as well understood. In particular, gene flow from eukaryotes to prokaryotes is rarely documented with strong support, which is unusual since prokaryotic genomes appear to readily accept foreign genes.
Here, we show that abundant marine cyanobacteria in the related genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus acquired a key Calvin cycle/glycolytic enzyme from a eukaryote. Two non-homologous forms of fructose bisphosphate aldolase (FBA) are characteristic of eukaryotes and prokaryotes respectively. However, a eukaryotic gene has been inserted immediately upstream of the ancestral prokaryotic gene in several strains (ecotypes) of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus. In one lineage this new gene has replaced the ancestral gene altogether. The eukaryotic gene is most closely related to the plastid-targeted FBA from red algae. This eukaryotic-type FBA once replaced the plastid/cyanobacterial type in photosynthetic eukaryotes, hinting at a possible functional advantage in Calvin cycle reactions. The strains that now possess this eukaryotic FBA are scattered across the tree of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus, perhaps because the gene has been transferred multiple times among cyanobacteria, or more likely because it has been selectively retained only in certain lineages.
A gene for plastid-targeted FBA has been transferred from red algae to cyanobacteria, where it has inserted itself beside its non-homologous, functional analogue. Its current distribution in Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus is punctate, suggesting a complex history since its introduction to this group.
PMCID: PMC1919352  PMID: 17584924
21.  Phylogeography of Cylindrospermopsin and Paralytic Shellfish Toxin-Producing Nostocales Cyanobacteria from Mediterranean Europe (Spain) 
Planktonic Nostocales cyanobacteria represent a challenge for microbiological research because of the wide range of cyanotoxins that they synthesize and their invasive behavior, which is presumably enhanced by global warming. To gain insight into the phylogeography of potentially toxic Nostocales from Mediterranean Europe, 31 strains of Anabaena (Anabaena crassa, A. lemmermannii, A. mendotae, and A. planctonica), Aphanizomenon (Aphanizomenon gracile, A. ovalisporum), and Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii were isolated from 14 freshwater bodies in Spain and polyphasically analyzed for their phylogeography, cyanotoxin production, and the presence of cyanotoxin biosynthesis genes. The potent cytotoxin cylindrospermopsin (CYN) was produced by all 6 Aphanizomenon ovalisporum strains at high levels (5.7 to 9.1 μg CYN mg−1 [dry weight]) with low variation between strains (1.5 to 3.9-fold) and a marked extracellular release (19 to 41% dissolved CYN) during exponential growth. Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) neurotoxins (saxitoxin, neosaxitoxin, and decarbamoylsaxitoxin) were detected in 2 Aphanizomenon gracile strains, both containing the sxtA gene. This gene was also amplified in non-PSP toxin-producing Aphanizomenon gracile and Aphanizomenon ovalisporum. Phylogenetic analyses supported the species identification and confirmed the high similarity of Spanish Anabaena and Aphanizomenon strains with other European strains. In contrast, Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii from Spain grouped together with American strains and was clearly separate from the rest of the European strains, raising questions about the current assumptions of the phylogeography and spreading routes of C. raciborskii. The present study confirms that the nostocalean genus Aphanizomenon is a major source of CYN and PSP toxins in Europe and demonstrates the presence of the sxtA gene in CYN-producing Aphanizomenon ovalisporum.
PMCID: PMC3911061  PMID: 24334673
22.  The Escherichia coli K-12 cyn operon is positively regulated by a member of the lysR family. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1992;174(11):3645-3650.
A regulatory gene, cynR, was found to be located next to the cyn operon but transcribed in the opposite direction. cynR encodes a positive regulatory protein that controls the cyn operon as well as its own synthesis. Positive regulation of the cyn operon requires cyanate and the cynR protein, but the negative autoregulation of the cynR gene appears to be independent of cyanate. The predicted amino acid sequence of the cynR protein derived from the DNA sequence was found to have significant homology to the predicted amino acid sequence of the lysR family of regulatory proteins.
PMCID: PMC206053  PMID: 1592818
23.  Ni Uptake and Limitation in Marine Synechococcus Strains▿  
Ni accumulation and utilization were studied in two strains of marine Synechococcus, isolated from both coastal (CC9311; clade I) and open-ocean (WH8102; clade III) environments, for which complete genome sequences are available. Both strains have genes encoding an Ni-containing urease and when grown on urea without Ni become Ni-N colimited. The Ni requirements of these strains also depend upon the genomic complement of genes encoding superoxide dismutase (SOD). WH8102, with a gene encoding only an Ni-SOD, has a novel obligate requirement for Ni, regardless of the N source. Reduced SOD activity in Ni-depleted cultures of WH8102 supports the link of this strain's Ni requirement to Ni-SOD. The genome of CC9311 contains a gene for a Cu/Zn-SOD in addition to a predicted pair of Ni-SODs, yet this strain cannot grow without Ni on NO3− and can grow only slowly on NH4+ without Ni, implying that the Cu/Zn-SOD cannot completely replace Ni-SOD in marine cyanobacteria. CC9311 does have a greater tolerance for Ni starvation. Both strains increase their Ni uptake capabilities and actively bioconcentrate Ni in response to decreasing extracellular and intracellular Ni. The changes in Ni uptake rates were more pronounced in WH8102 than in CC9311 and for growth on urea or nitrate than for growth on ammonia. These results, combined with an analysis of fully sequenced marine cyanobacterial genomes, suggest that the growth of many marine Synechococcus and all Prochlorococcus strains is dependent upon Ni.
PMCID: PMC2223220  PMID: 17951444
24.  Modeling Selective Pressures on Phytoplankton in the Global Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9569.
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.
PMCID: PMC2835739  PMID: 20224766
25.  Quantitative and Functional Characterization of the Hyper-Conserved Protein of Prochlorococcus and Marine Synechococcus 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e109327.
A large fraction of any bacterial genome consists of hypothetical protein-coding open reading frames (ORFs). While most of these ORFs are present only in one or a few sequenced genomes, a few are conserved, often across large phylogenetic distances. Such conservation provides clues to likely uncharacterized cellular functions that need to be elucidated. Marine cyanobacteria from the Prochlorococcus/marine Synechococcus clade are dominant bacteria in oceanic waters and are significant contributors to global primary production. A Hyper Conserved Protein (PSHCP) of unknown function is 100% conserved at the amino acid level in genomes of Prochlorococcus/marine Synechococcus, but lacks homologs outside of this clade. In this study we investigated Prochlorococcus marinus strains MED4 and MIT 9313 and Synechococcus sp. strain WH 8102 for the transcription of the PSHCP gene using RT-Q-PCR, for the presence of the protein product through quantitative immunoblotting, and for the protein's binding partners in a pull down assay. Significant transcription of the gene was detected in all strains. The PSHCP protein content varied between 8±1 fmol and 26±9 fmol per ug total protein, depending on the strain. The 50 S ribosomal protein L2, the Photosystem I protein PsaD and the Ycf48-like protein were found associated with the PSHCP protein in all strains and not appreciably or at all in control experiments. We hypothesize that PSHCP is a protein associated with the ribosome, and is possibly involved in photosystem assembly.
PMCID: PMC4215834  PMID: 25360678

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