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1.  Comparative quantitative proteomics of prochlorococcus ecotypes to a decrease in environmental phosphate concentrations 
Aquatic Biosystems  2012;8:7.
The well-lit surface waters of oligotrophic gyres significantly contribute to global primary production. Marine cyanobacteria of the genus Prochlorococcus are a major fraction of photosynthetic organisms within these areas. Labile phosphate is considered a limiting nutrient in some oligotrophic regions such as the Caribbean Sea, and as such it is crucial to understand the physiological response of primary producers such as Prochlorococcus to fluctuations in the availability of this critical nutrient.
Prochlorococcus strains representing both high light (HL) (MIT9312) and low light (LL) (NATL2A and SS120) ecotypes were grown identically in phosphate depleted media (10 μM Pi). The three strains displayed marked differences in cellular protein expression, as determined by high throughput large scale quantitative proteomic analysis. The only strain to demonstrate a significantly different growth rate under reduced phosphate conditions was MIT9312. Additionally, there was a significant increase in phosphate-related proteins such as PhoE (> 15 fold increase) and a depression of the Rubisco protein RbcL abundance in this strain, whereas there appeared to be no significant change within the LL strain SS120.
This differential response between ecotypes highlights the relative importance of phosphate availability to each strain and from these results we draw the conclusion that the expression of phosphate acquisition mechanisms are activated at strain specific phosphate concentrations.
PMCID: PMC3349580  PMID: 22480396
Prochlorococcus; PstS; PhoA; PhoE; Growth; Phosphate
2.  Comparable light stimulation of organic nutrient uptake by SAR11 and Prochlorococcus in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre 
The ISME Journal  2012;7(3):603-614.
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.
PMCID: PMC3580278  PMID: 23096403
SAR11; Prochlorococcus; light stimulation; flow cytometric sorting; radioisotope tracing; ATP and amino-acid uptake
3.  Cyanobacterial community structure as seen from RNA polymerase gene sequence analysis. 
PCR was used to amplify DNA-dependent RNA polymerase gene sequences specifically from the cyanobacterial population in a seawater sample from the Sargasso Sea. Sequencing and analysis of the cloned fragments suggest that the population in the sample consisted of two distinct clusters of Prochlorococcus-like cyanobacteria and four clusters of Synechococcus-like cyanobacteria. The diversity within these clusters was significantly different, however. Clones within each Synechococcus-like cluster were 99 to 100% identical, while each Prochlorococcus-like cluster was only 91% identical at the nucleotide level. One Prochlorococcus-like cluster was significantly more closely related to a Mediterranean Sea (surface) Prochlorococcus isolate than to the other cluster, showing the highly divergent nature of this group even in one sample. The approach described here can be used as a general method for examining cyanobacterial diversity, while an oligotrophic ocean ecosystem such as the Sargasso Sea may be an ideal model for examining diversity in relation to environmental parameters.
PMCID: PMC201791  PMID: 7944363
4.  Dependence of the Cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus on Hydrogen Peroxide Scavenging Microbes for Growth at the Ocean's Surface 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16805.
The phytoplankton community in the oligotrophic open ocean is numerically dominated by the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, accounting for approximately half of all photosynthesis. In the illuminated euphotic zone where Prochlorococcus grows, reactive oxygen species are continuously generated via photochemical reactions with dissolved organic matter. However, Prochlorococcus genomes lack catalase and additional protective mechanisms common in other aerobes, and this genus is highly susceptible to oxidative damage from hydrogen peroxide (HOOH). In this study we showed that the extant microbial community plays a vital, previously unrecognized role in cross-protecting Prochlorococcus from oxidative damage in the surface mixed layer of the oligotrophic ocean. Microbes are the primary HOOH sink in marine systems, and in the absence of the microbial community, surface waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean accumulated HOOH to concentrations that were lethal for Prochlorococcus cultures. In laboratory experiments with the marine heterotroph Alteromonas sp., serving as a proxy for the natural community of HOOH-degrading microbes, bacterial depletion of HOOH from the extracellular milieu prevented oxidative damage to the cell envelope and photosystems of co-cultured Prochlorococcus, and facilitated the growth of Prochlorococcus at ecologically-relevant cell concentrations. Curiously, the more recently evolved lineages of Prochlorococcus that exploit the surface mixed layer niche were also the most sensitive to HOOH. The genomic streamlining of these evolved lineages during adaptation to the high-light exposed upper euphotic zone thus appears to be coincident with an acquired dependency on the extant HOOH-consuming community. These results underscore the importance of (indirect) biotic interactions in establishing niche boundaries, and highlight the impacts that community-level responses to stress may have in the ecological and evolutionary outcomes for co-existing species.
PMCID: PMC3033426  PMID: 21304826
5.  Characterization of Cyanate Metabolism in Marine Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus spp. ▿  
Cyanobacteria of the genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus are the most abundant photosynthetic organisms on earth, occupying a key position at the base of marine food webs. The cynS gene that encodes cyanase was identified among bacterial, fungal, and plant sequences in public databases, and the gene was particularly prevalent among cyanobacteria, including numerous Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus strains. Phylogenetic analysis of cynS sequences retrieved from the Global Ocean Survey database identified >60% as belonging to unicellular marine cyanobacteria, suggesting an important role for cyanase in their nitrogen metabolism. We demonstrate here that marine cyanobacteria have a functionally active cyanase, the transcriptional regulation of which varies among strains and reflects the genomic context of cynS. In Prochlorococcus sp. strain MED4, cynS was presumably transcribed as part of the cynABDS operon, implying cyanase involvement in cyanate utilization. In Synechococcus sp. strain WH8102, expression was not related to nitrogen stress responses and here cyanase presumably serves in the detoxification of cyanate resulting from intracellular urea and/or carbamoyl phosphate decomposition. Lastly, we report on a cyanase activity encoded by cynH, a novel gene found in marine cyanobacteria only. The presence of dual cyanase genes in the genomes of seven marine Synechococcus strains and their respective roles in nitrogen metabolism remain to be clarified.
PMCID: PMC3019706  PMID: 21057026
6.  Strong Genome-Wide Selection Early in the Evolution of Prochlorococcus Resulted in a Reduced Genome through the Loss of a Large Number of Small Effect Genes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e88837.
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.
PMCID: PMC3940434  PMID: 24594762
7.  Ecological Genomics of Marine Picocyanobacteria†  
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.
PMCID: PMC2698417  PMID: 19487728
8.  Streamlined Regulation and Gene Loss as Adaptive Mechanisms in Prochlorococcus for Optimized Nitrogen Utilization in Oligotrophic Environments 
Prochlorococcus is one of the dominant cyanobacteria and a key primary producer in oligotrophic intertropical oceans. Here we present an overview of the pathways of nitrogen assimilation in Prochlorococcus, which have been significantly modified in these microorganisms for adaptation to the natural limitations of their habitats, leading to the appearance of different ecotypes lacking key enzymes, such as nitrate reductase, nitrite reductase, or urease, and to the simplification of the metabolic regulation systems. The only nitrogen source utilizable by all studied isolates is ammonia, which is incorporated into glutamate by glutamine synthetase. However, this enzyme shows unusual regulatory features, although its structural and kinetic features are unchanged. Similarly, urease activities remain fairly constant under different conditions. The signal transduction protein PII is apparently not phosphorylated in Prochlorococcus, despite its conserved amino acid sequence. The genes amt1 and ntcA (coding for an ammonium transporter and a global nitrogen regulator, respectively) show noncorrelated expression in Prochlorococcus under nitrogen stress; furthermore, high rates of organic nitrogen uptake have been observed. All of these unusual features could provide a physiological basis for the predominance of Prochlorococcus over Synechococcus in oligotrophic oceans.
PMCID: PMC539009  PMID: 15590777
9.  Genome Sequence, Structural Proteins, and Capsid Organization of the Cyanophage Syn5: A “Horned” Bacteriophage of Marine Synechococcus 
Journal of molecular biology  2007;368(4):966-981.
Marine Synechococcus spp and marine Prochlorococcus spp are numerically dominant photoautotrophs in the open oceans and contributors to the global carbon cycle. Syn5 is a short-tailed cyanophage isolated from the Sargasso Sea on Synechococcus strain WH8109. Syn5 has been grown in WH8109 to high titer in the laboratory and purified and concentrated retaining infectivity. Genome sequencing and annotation of Syn5 revealed that the linear genome is 46,214bp with a 237bp terminal direct repeat. Sixty-one open reading frames (ORFs) were identified. Based on genomic organization and sequence similarity to known protein sequences within GenBank, Syn5 shares features with T7-like phages. The presence of a putative integrase suggests access to a temperate life-cycle. Assignment of eleven ORFs to structural proteins found within the phage virion was confirmed by mass-spectrometry and N-terminal sequencing. Eight of these identified structural proteins exhibited amino acid sequence similarity to enteric phage proteins. The remaining three virion proteins did not resemble any known phage sequences in GenBank as of August 2006. Cryoelectron micrographs of purified Syn5 virions revealed that the capsid has a single “horn”, a novel fibrous structure protruding from the opposing end of the capsid from the tail of the virion. The tail appendage displayed an apparent three-fold rather than six-fold symmetry. An 18Å-resolution icosahedral reconstruction of the capsid revealed a T=7 lattice, but with an unusual pattern of surface knobs. This phage/host system should allow detailed investigation of the physiology and biochemistry of phage propagation in marine photosynthetic bacteria.
PMCID: PMC2971696  PMID: 17383677
10.  Light Variability Illuminates Niche-Partitioning among Marine Picocyanobacteria 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(12):e1341.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus picocyanobacteria are dominant contributors to marine primary production over large areas of the ocean. Phytoplankton cells are entrained in the water column and are thus often exposed to rapid changes in irradiance within the upper mixed layer of the ocean. An upward fluctuation in irradiance can result in photosystem II photoinactivation exceeding counteracting repair rates through protein turnover, thereby leading to net photoinhibition of primary productivity, and potentially cell death. Here we show that the effective cross-section for photosystem II photoinactivation is conserved across the picocyanobacteria, but that their photosystem II repair capacity and protein-specific photosystem II light capture are negatively correlated and vary widely across the strains. The differences in repair rate correspond to the light and nutrient conditions that characterize the site of origin of the Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus isolates, and determine the upward fluctuation in irradiance they can tolerate, indicating that photoinhibition due to transient high-light exposure influences their distribution in the ocean.
PMCID: PMC2129112  PMID: 18092006
11.  Phylogenetic Diversity of Sequences of Cyanophage Photosynthetic Gene psbA in Marine and Freshwaters▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(17):5317-5324.
Many cyanophage isolates which infect the marine cyanobacteria Synechococcus spp. and Prochlorococcus spp. contain a gene homologous to psbA, which codes for the D1 protein involved in photosynthesis. In the present study, cyanophage psbA gene fragments were readily amplified from freshwater and marine samples, confirming their widespread occurrence in aquatic communities. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that sequences from freshwaters have an evolutionary history that is distinct from that of their marine counterparts. Similarly, sequences from cyanophages infecting Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus spp. were readily discriminated, as were sequences from podoviruses and myoviruses. Viral psbA sequences from the same geographic origins clustered within different clades. For example, cyanophage psbA sequences from the Arctic Ocean fell within the Synechococcus as well as Prochlorococcus phage groups. Moreover, as psbA sequences are not confined to a single family of phages, they provide an additional genetic marker that can be used to explore the diversity and evolutionary history of cyanophages in aquatic environments.
PMCID: PMC2546643  PMID: 18586962
12.  A Novel Evolutionary Lineage of Carbonic Anhydrase (ɛ Class) Is a Component of the Carboxysome Shell 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(3):623-630.
A significant portion of the total carbon fixed in the biosphere is attributed to the autotrophic metabolism of prokaryotes. In cyanobacteria and many chemolithoautotrophic bacteria, CO2 fixation is catalyzed by ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO), most if not all of which is packaged in protein microcompartments called carboxysomes. These structures play an integral role in a cellular CO2-concentrating mechanism and are essential components for autotrophic growth. Here we report that the carboxysomal shell protein, CsoS3, from Halothiobacillus neapolitanus is a novel carbonic anhydrase (ɛ-class CA) that has an evolutionary lineage distinct from those previously recognized in animals, plants, and other prokaryotes. Functional CAs encoded by csoS3 homologues were also identified in the cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus sp. and Synechococcus sp., which dominate the oligotrophic oceans and are major contributors to primary productivity. The location of the carboxysomal CA in the shell suggests that it could supply the active sites of RuBisCO in the carboxysome with the high concentrations of CO2 necessary for optimal RuBisCO activity and efficient carbon fixation in these prokaryotes, which are important contributors to the global carbon cycle.
PMCID: PMC321498  PMID: 14729686
13.  Sequence analysis of a complete 1.66 Mb Prochlorococcus marinus MED4 genome cloned in yeast 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(20):10375-10383.
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.
PMCID: PMC3488255  PMID: 22941652
14.  Denitrifying Alphaproteobacteria from the Arabian Sea That Express nosZ, the Gene Encoding Nitrous Oxide Reductase, in Oxic and Suboxic Waters 
Marine ecosystems are significant sources of the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). A by-product of nitrification and an intermediate in the denitrification pathway, N2O is formed primarily in oxygen-deficient waters and sediments. We describe the isolation of a group of alphaproteobacteria from the suboxic waters of the Arabian Sea that are phylogenetically affiliated with Labrenzia spp. and other denitrifiers. Quantitative PCR assays revealed that these organisms were very broadly distributed in this semienclosed ocean basin. Their biogeographical range extended from the productive, upwelling region off the Omani shelf to the clear, oligotrophic waters that are found much further south and also included the mesotrophic waters overlying the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) in the northeastern sector of the Arabian Sea. These organisms actively expressed NosZ (N2O reductase, the terminal step in the denitrification pathway) within the OMZ, an established region of pelagic denitrification. They were found in greatest numbers outside the OMZ, however, and nosZ mRNAs were also readily detected near the base of the upper mixed layer in nutrient-poor, oxic regions. Our findings provide firm molecular evidence of a potential sink for N2O within well-ventilated, oceanic surface waters in this biogeochemically important region. We show that the Labrenzia-like denitrifiers and their close relatives are habitual colonizers of the pseudobenthic environment provided by Trichodesmium spp. We develop the conjecture that the O2-depleted microzones that occur within the colonies of these filamentous, diazotrophic cyanobacteria might provide unexpected niches for the reduction of nitrogen oxides in tropical and subtropical surface waters.
PMCID: PMC3623181  PMID: 23396348
15.  Use of stable isotope-labelled cells to identify active grazers of picocyanobacteria in ocean surface waters 
Environmental Microbiology  2009;11(2):512-525.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the two most abundant marine cyanobacteria. They represent a significant fraction of the total primary production of the world oceans and comprise a major fraction of the prey biomass available to phagotrophic protists. Despite relatively rapid growth rates, picocyanobacterial cell densities in open-ocean surface waters remain fairly constant, implying steady mortality due to viral infection and consumption by predators. There have been several studies on grazing by specific protists on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in culture, and of cell loss rates due to overall grazing in the field. However, the specific sources of mortality of these primary producers in the wild remain unknown. Here, we use a modification of the RNA stable isotope probing technique (RNA-SIP), which involves adding labelled cells to natural seawater, to identify active predators that are specifically consuming Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Four major groups were identified as having their 18S rRNA highly labelled: Prymnesiophyceae (Haptophyta), Dictyochophyceae (Stramenopiles), Bolidomonas (Stramenopiles) and Dinoflagellata (Alveolata). For the first three of these, the closest relative of the sequences identified was a photosynthetic organism, indicating the presence of mixotrophs among picocyanobacterial predators. We conclude that the use of RNA-SIP is a useful method to identity specific predators for picocyanobacteria in situ, and that the method could possibly be used to identify other bacterial predators important in the microbial food-web.
PMCID: PMC2702499  PMID: 19196281
16.  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
17.  Analogous nutrient limitations in unicellular diazotrophs and Prochlorococcus in the South Pacific Ocean 
The ISME Journal  2011;6(4):733-744.
Growth limitation of phytoplankton and unicellular nitrogen (N2) fixers (diazotrophs) were investigated in the oligotrophic Western South Pacific Ocean. Based on change in abundances of nifH or 23S rRNA gene copies during nutrient-enrichment experiments, the factors limiting net growth of the unicellular diazotrophs UCYN-A (Group A), Crocosphaera watsonii, γ-Proteobacterium 24774A11, and the non-diazotrophic picocyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, varied within the region. At the westernmost stations, numbers were enhanced by organic carbon added as simple sugars, a combination of iron and an organic chelator, or iron added with phosphate. At stations nearest the equator, the nutrient-limiting growth was not apparent. Maximum net growth rates for UCYN-A, C. watsonii and γ-24774A11 were 0.19, 0.61 and 0.52 d−1, respectively, which are the first known empirical growth rates reported for the uncultivated UCYN-A and the γ-24774A11. The addition of N enhanced total phytoplankton biomass up to 5-fold, and the non-N2-fixing Synechococcus was among the groups that responded favorably to N addition. Nitrogen was the major nutrient-limiting phytoplankton biomass in the Western South Pacific Ocean, while availability of organic carbon or iron and organic chelator appear to limit abundances of unicellular diazotrophs. Lack of phytoplankton response to nutrient additions in the Pacific warm pool waters suggests diazotroph growth in this area is controlled by different factors than in the higher latitudes, which may partially explain previously observed variability in community composition in the region.
PMCID: PMC3309360  PMID: 22094348
Crocosphaera; cyanobacteria; group A; nitrogen fixation; qPCR; UCYN-A
18.  Aerobic Anoxygenic Phototrophic Bacteria in the Mid-Atlantic Bight and the North Pacific Gyre 
The abundance of aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic (AAP) bacteria, cyanobacteria, and heterotrophs was examined in the Mid-Atlantic Bight and the central North Pacific Gyre using infrared fluorescence microscopy coupled with image analysis and flow cytometry. AAP bacteria comprised 5% to 16% of total prokaryotes in the Atlantic Ocean but only 5% or less in the Pacific Ocean. In the Atlantic, AAP bacterial abundance was as much as 2-fold higher than that of Prochlorococcus spp. and 10-fold higher than that of Synechococcus spp. In contrast, Prochlorococcus spp. outnumbered AAP bacteria 5- to 50-fold in the Pacific. In both oceans, subsurface abundance maxima occurred within the photic zone, and AAP bacteria were least abundant below the 1% light depth. The abundance of AAP bacteria rivaled some groups of strictly heterotrophic bacteria and was often higher than the abundance of known AAP bacterial genera (Erythrobacter and Roseobacter spp.). Concentrations of bacteriochlorophyll a (BChl a) were low (∼1%) compared to those of chlorophyll a in the North Atlantic. Although the BChl a content of AAP bacteria per cell was typically 20- to 250-fold lower than the divinyl-chlorophyll a content of Prochlorococcus, the pigment content of AAP bacteria approached that of Prochlorococcus in shelf break water. Our results suggest that AAP bacteria can be quite abundant in some oceanic regimes and that their distribution in the water column is consistent with phototrophy.
PMCID: PMC1352302  PMID: 16391092
19.  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
20.  Decrease in the Autotrophic-to-Heterotrophic Biomass Ratio of Picoplankton in Oligotrophic Marine Waters Due to Bottle Enclosure ▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(16):5739-5746.
We investigated the effects of bottle enclosure on autotrophic and heterotrophic picoplankton in North and South subtropical Atlantic oligotrophic waters, where the biomass and metabolism of the microbial community are dominated by the picoplankton size class. We measured changes in both autotrophic (Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus, and picoeukaryotes) and heterotrophic picoplankton biomass during three time series experiments and in 16 endpoint experiments over 24 h in light and dark treatments. Our results showed a divergent effect of bottle incubation on the autotrophic and heterotrophic components of the picoplankton community. The biomass of picophytoplankton showed, on average, a >50% decrease, mostly affecting the picoeukaryotes and, to a lesser extent, Prochlorococcus. In contrast, the biomass of heterotrophic bacteria remained constant or increased during the incubations. We also sampled 10 stations during a Lagrangian study in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, which enabled us to compare the observed changes in the auto- to heterotrophic picoplankton biomass ratio (AB:HB ratio) inside the incubation bottles with those taking place in situ. While the AB:HB ratio in situ remained fairly constant during the Lagrangian study, it decreased significantly during the 24 h of incubation experiments. Thus, the rapid biomass changes observed in the incubations are artifacts resulting from bottle confinement and do not take place in natural conditions. Our results suggest that short (<1 day) bottle incubations in oligotrophic waters may lead to biased estimates of the microbial metabolic balance by underestimating primary production and/or overestimating bacterial respiration.
PMCID: PMC3165269  PMID: 21742930
21.  Glucose Uptake and Its Effect on Gene Expression in Prochlorococcus 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3416.
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.
PMCID: PMC2565063  PMID: 18941506
22.  Closely related phytoplankton species produce similar suites of dissolved organic matter 
Production of dissolved organic matter (DOM) by marine phytoplankton supplies the majority of organic substrate consumed by heterotrophic bacterioplankton in the sea. This production and subsequent consumption converts a vast quantity of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus between organic and inorganic forms, directly impacting global cycles of these biologically important elements. Details regarding the chemical composition of DOM produced by marine phytoplankton are sparse, and while often assumed, it is not currently known if phylogenetically distinct groups of marine phytoplankton release characteristic suites of DOM. To investigate the relationship between specific phytoplankton groups and the DOM they release, hydrophobic phytoplankton-derived dissolved organic matter (DOMP) from eight axenic strains was analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS). Identification of DOM features derived from Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus, Thalassiosira, and Phaeodactylum revealed DOMP to be complex and highly strain dependent. Connections between DOMP features and the phylogenetic relatedness of these strains were identified on multiple levels of phylogenetic distance, suggesting that marine phytoplankton produce DOM that in part reflects its phylogenetic origin. Chemical information regarding the size and polarity ranges of features from defined biological sources was also obtained. Our findings reveal DOMP composition to be partially conserved among related phytoplankton species, and implicate marine DOM as a potential factor influencing microbial diversity in the sea by acting as a link between autotrophic and heterotrophic microbial community structures.
PMCID: PMC3975126  PMID: 24748874
dissolved organic matter; untargeted metabolomics; marine phytoplankton; exometabolome; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; Thalassiosira; Phaeodactylum
23.  Novel lineages of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in the global oceans 
The ISME Journal  2011;6(2):285-297.
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.
PMCID: PMC3260499  PMID: 21955990
cyanobacteria; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; diversity; global ocean; 16S-23S rRNA ITS
24.  Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus have Evolved Different Adaptive Mechanisms to Cope with Light and UV Stress 
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.
PMCID: PMC3441193  PMID: 23024637
marine cyanobacteria; Synechococcus; Prochlorococcus; light/dark cycle; light stress; UV radiations; oxidative stress; photophysiology
25.  Seasonal Expression of the Picocyanobacterial Phosphonate Transporter Gene phnD in the Sargasso Sea 
In phosphorus-limited marine environments, picocyanobacteria (Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus spp.) can hydrolyze naturally occurring phosphonates as a P source. Utilization of 2-aminoethylphosphonate (2-AEP) is dependent on expression of the phn genes, encoding functions required for uptake, and C–P bond cleavage. Prior work has indicated that expression of picocyanobacterial phnD, encoding the phosphonate binding protein of the phosphonate ABC transporter, is a proxy for the assimilation of phosphonates in natural assemblages of Synechococcus spp. and Prochlorococcus spp (Ilikchyan et al., 2009). In this study, we expand this work to assess seasonal phnD expression in the Sargasso Sea. By RT-PCR, our data confirm that phnD expression is constitutive for the Prochlorococcus spp. detected, but in Synechococcus spp. phnD transcription follows patterns of phosphorus availability in the mixed layer. Specifically, our data suggest that phnD is repressed in the spring when P is bioavailable following deep winter mixing. In the fall, phnD expression follows a depth-dependent pattern reflecting depleted P at the surface following summertime drawdown, and elevated P at depth.
PMCID: PMC3109553  PMID: 21687717
picocyanobacteria; phosphonates; Synechococcus; Prochlorococcus; Sargasso Sea; phosphorus utilization

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