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1.  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
2.  Culture Isolation and Culture-Independent Clone Libraries Reveal New Marine Synechococcus Ecotypes with Distinctive Light and N Physiologies▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2006;72(11):7193-7204.
Marine microbial communities often contain multiple closely related phylogenetic clades, but in many cases, it is still unclear what physiological traits differentiate these putative ecotypes. The numerically abundant marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus can be divided into at least 14 clades. In order to better understand ecotype differentiation in this genus, we assessed the diversity of a Synechococcus community from a well-mixed water column in the Sargasso Sea during March 2002, a time of year when this genus typically reaches its annual peak in abundance. Diversity was estimated from water sampled at three depths (approximately 5, 70, and 170 m) using both culture isolation and construction of cyanobacterial 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed sequence clone libraries. Clonal isolates were obtained by enrichment with ammonium, nitrite, or nitrate as the sole N source, followed by pour plating. Each method sampled the in situ diversity differently. The combined methods revealed a total of seven Synechococcus phylotypes including two new putative ecotypes, labeled XV and XVI. Although most other isolates grow on nitrate, clade XV exhibited a reduced efficiency in nitrate utilization, and both clade XV and XVI are capable of chromatic adaptation, demonstrating that this trait is more widely distributed among Synechococcus strains than previously known. Thus, as in its sister genus Prochlorococcus, light and nitrogen utilization are important factors in ecotype differentiation in the marine Synechococcus lineage.
PMCID: PMC1636174  PMID: 16936060
3.  Patterns and Implications of Gene Gain and Loss in the Evolution of Prochlorococcus 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(12):e231.
Prochlorococcus is a marine cyanobacterium that numerically dominates the mid-latitude oceans and is the smallest known oxygenic phototroph. Numerous isolates from diverse areas of the world's oceans have been studied and shown to be physiologically and genetically distinct. All isolates described thus far can be assigned to either a tightly clustered high-light (HL)-adapted clade, or a more divergent low-light (LL)-adapted group. The 16S rRNA sequences of the entire Prochlorococcus group differ by at most 3%, and the four initially published genomes revealed patterns of genetic differentiation that help explain physiological differences among the isolates. Here we describe the genomes of eight newly sequenced isolates and combine them with the first four genomes for a comprehensive analysis of the core (shared by all isolates) and flexible genes of the Prochlorococcus group, and the patterns of loss and gain of the flexible genes over the course of evolution. There are 1,273 genes that represent the core shared by all 12 genomes. They are apparently sufficient, according to metabolic reconstruction, to encode a functional cell. We describe a phylogeny for all 12 isolates by subjecting their complete proteomes to three different phylogenetic analyses. For each non-core gene, we used a maximum parsimony method to estimate which ancestor likely first acquired or lost each gene. Many of the genetic differences among isolates, especially for genes involved in outer membrane synthesis and nutrient transport, are found within the same clade. Nevertheless, we identified some genes defining HL and LL ecotypes, and clades within these broad ecotypes, helping to demonstrate the basis of HL and LL adaptations in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, our estimates of gene gain events allow us to identify highly variable genomic islands that are not apparent through simple pairwise comparisons. These results emphasize the functional roles, especially those connected to outer membrane synthesis and transport that dominate the flexible genome and set it apart from the core. Besides identifying islands and demonstrating their role throughout the history of Prochlorococcus, reconstruction of past gene gains and losses shows that much of the variability exists at the “leaves of the tree,” between the most closely related strains. Finally, the identification of core and flexible genes from this 12-genome comparison is largely consistent with the relative frequency of Prochlorococcus genes found in global ocean metagenomic databases, further closing the gap between our understanding of these organisms in the lab and the wild.
Author Summary
Prochlorococcus—the most abundant photosynthetic microbe living in the vast, nutrient-poor areas of the ocean—is a major contributor to the global carbon cycle. Prochlorococcus is composed of closely related, physiologically distinct lineages whose differences enable the group as a whole to proliferate over a broad range of environmental conditions. We compare the genomes of 12 strains of Prochlorococcus representing its major lineages in order to identify genetic differences affecting the ecology of different lineages and their evolutionary origin. First, we identify the core genome: the 1,273 genes shared among all strains. This core set of genes encodes the essentials of a functional cell, enabling it to make living matter out of sunlight and carbon dioxide. We then create a genomic tree that maps the gain and loss of non-core genes in individual strains, showing that a striking number of genes are gained or lost even among the most closely related strains. We find that lost and gained genes commonly cluster in highly variable regions called genomic islands. The level of diversity among the non-core genes, and the number of new genes added with each new genome sequenced, suggest far more diversity to be discovered.
PMCID: PMC2151091  PMID: 18159947
4.  Diversity and Distribution of Marine Synechococcus: Multiple Gene Phylogenies for Consensus Classification and Development of qPCR Assays for Sensitive Measurement of Clades in the Ocean 
Marine Synechococcus is a globally significant genus of cyanobacteria that is comprised of multiple genetic lineages or clades. These clades are thought to represent ecologically distinct units, or ecotypes. Because multiple clades often co-occur together in the oceans, Synechococcus are ideal microbes to explore how closely related bacterial taxa within the same functional guild of organisms co-exist and partition marine habitats. Here we sequenced multiple gene loci from cultured strains to confirm the congruency of clade classifications between the 16S–23S rDNA internally transcribed spacer (ITS), 16S rDNA, narB, ntcA, and rpoC1 loci commonly used in Synechococcus diversity studies. We designed quantitative PCR (qPCR) assays that target the ITS for 10 Synechococcus clades, including four clades, XV, XVI, CRD1, and CRD2, not covered by previous assays employing other loci. Our new qPCR assays are very sensitive and specific, detecting down to tens of cells per ml. Application of these qPCR assays to field samples from the northwest Atlantic showed clear shifts in Synechococcus community composition across a coastal to open-ocean transect. Consistent with previous studies, clades I and IV dominated cold, coastal Synechococcus communities. Clades II and X were abundant at the two warmer, off-shore stations, and at all stations multiple Synechococcus clades co-occurred. qPCR assays developed here provide valuable tools to further explore the dynamics of microbial community structure and the mechanisms of co-existence.
PMCID: PMC3377940  PMID: 22723796
microbial ecology; cyanobacteria; Synechococcus; microbial diversity; quantitative PCR; multiple gene locus phylogeny; biogeography; ecotype
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  Ecology of uncultured Prochlorococcus clades revealed through single-cell genomics and biogeographic analysis 
The ISME Journal  2012;7(1):184-198.
Prochlorococcus is the numerically dominant photosynthetic organism throughout much of the world's oceans, yet little is known about the ecology and genetic diversity of populations inhabiting tropical waters. To help close this gap, we examined natural Prochlorococcus communities in the tropical Pacific Ocean using a single-cell whole-genome amplification and sequencing. Analysis of the gene content of just 10 single cells from these waters added 394 new genes to the Prochlorococcus pan-genome—that is, genes never before seen in a Prochlorococcus cell. Analysis of marker genes, including the ribosomal internal transcribed sequence, from dozens of individual cells revealed several representatives from two uncultivated clades of Prochlorococcus previously identified as HNLC1 and HNLC2. While the HNLC clades can dominate Prochlorococcus communities under certain conditions, their overall geographic distribution was highly restricted compared with other clades of Prochlorococcus. In the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, these clades were only found in warm waters with low Fe and high inorganic P levels. Genomic analysis suggests that at least one of these clades thrives in low Fe environments by scavenging organic-bound Fe, a process previously unknown in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, the capacity to utilize organic-bound Fe appears to have been acquired horizontally and may be exchanged among other clades of Prochlorococcus. Finally, one of the single Prochlorococcus cells sequenced contained a partial genome of what appears to be a prophage integrated into the genome.
PMCID: PMC3526172  PMID: 22895163
HNLC; Prochlorococcus; siderophore
9.  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
10.  A novel clade of Prochlorococcus found in high nutrient low chlorophyll waters in the South and Equatorial Pacific Ocean 
The ISME journal  2010;5(6):933-944.
A novel high-light (HL)-adapted Prochlorococcus clade was discovered in high nutrient and low chlorophyll (HNLC) waters in the South Pacific Ocean by phylogenetic analyses of 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and 16S–23S internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences. This clade, named HNLC fell within the HL-adapted Prochlorococcus clade with sequences above 99% similarity to one another, and was divided into two subclades, HNLC1 and HNLC2. The distribution of the whole HNLC clade in a northwest to southeast transect in the South Pacific (HNLC-to-gyre) and two 8°N to 8°S transects in the Equatorial Pacific was determined by quantitative PCR using specific primers targeting ITS regions. HNLC was the dominant HL Prochlorococcus clade (2–9% of bacterial 16S rRNA genes) at the three westernmost stations in the South Pacific but decreased to less than 0.1% at the other stations being replaced by the eMIT9312 ecotype in the hyperoligotrophic gyre. The highest contributions of HNLC Prochlorococcus in both Equatorial Pacific transects along the latitudinal lines of 170°W and 155°W were observed at the southernmost stations, reaching 16 and 6% of bacterial 16S rRNA genes, respectively, whereas eMIT9312 dominated near the Equator. Spearman Rank Order correlation analysis indicated that although both the HNLC clade and eMIT9312 were correlated with temperature, they showed different correlations with regard to nutrients. HNLC only showed significant correlations to ammonium uptake and regeneration rates, whereas eMIT9312 was negatively correlated with inorganic nutrients.
PMCID: PMC3131852  PMID: 21124492
16S rRNA; Equatorial Pacific; HNLC; ITS; Prochlorococcus; qPCR
11.  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
12.  Clade-Specific 16S Ribosomal DNA Oligonucleotides Reveal the Predominance of a Single Marine Synechococcus Clade throughout a Stratified Water Column in the Red Sea 
Phylogenetic relationships among members of the marine Synechococcus genus were determined following sequencing of the 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) from 31 novel cultured isolates from the Red Sea and several other oceanic environments. This revealed a large genetic diversity within the marine Synechococcus cluster consistent with earlier work but also identified three novel clades not previously recognized. Phylogenetic analyses showed one clade, containing halotolerant isolates lacking phycoerythrin (PE) and including strains capable, or not, of utilizing nitrate as the sole N source, which clustered within the MC-A (Synechococcus subcluster 5.1) lineage. Two copies of the 16S rRNA gene are present in marine Synechococcus genomes, and cloning and sequencing of these copies from Synechococcus sp. strain WH 7803 and genomic information from Synechococcus sp. strain WH 8102 reveal these to be identical. Based on the 16S rDNA sequence information, clade-specific oligonucleotides for the marine Synechococcus genus were designed and their specificity was optimized. Using dot blot hybridization technology, these probes were used to determine the in situ community structure of marine Synechococcus populations in the Red Sea at the time of a Synechococcus maximum during April 1999. A predominance of genotypes representative of a single clade was found, and these genotypes were common among strains isolated into culture. Conversely, strains lacking PE, which were also relatively easily isolated into culture, represented only a minor component of the Synechococcus population. Genotypes corresponding to well-studied laboratory strains also appeared to be poorly represented in this stratified water column in the Red Sea.
PMCID: PMC154553  PMID: 12732508
13.  Influence of Molecular Resolution on Sequence-Based Discovery of Ecological Diversity among Synechococcus Populations in an Alkaline Siliceous Hot Spring Microbial Mat ▿ †  
Previous research has shown that sequences of 16S rRNA genes and 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer regions may not have enough genetic resolution to define all ecologically distinct Synechococcus populations (ecotypes) inhabiting alkaline, siliceous hot spring microbial mats. To achieve higher molecular resolution, we studied sequence variation in three protein-encoding loci sampled by PCR from 60°C and 65°C sites in the Mushroom Spring mat (Yellowstone National Park, WY). Sequences were analyzed using the ecotype simulation (ES) and AdaptML algorithms to identify putative ecotypes. Between 4 and 14 times more putative ecotypes were predicted from variation in protein-encoding locus sequences than from variation in 16S rRNA and 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer sequences. The number of putative ecotypes predicted depended on the number of sequences sampled and the molecular resolution of the locus. Chao estimates of diversity indicated that few rare ecotypes were missed. Many ecotypes hypothesized by sequence analyses were different in their habitat specificities, suggesting different adaptations to temperature or other parameters that vary along the flow channel.
PMCID: PMC3067246  PMID: 21169433
14.  Development and Bias Assessment of a Method for Targeted Metagenomic Sequencing of Marine Cyanobacteria 
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the most abundant photosynthetic organisms in oligotrophic waters and responsible for a significant percentage of the earth's primary production. Here we developed a method for metagenomic sequencing of sorted Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations using a transposon-based library preparation technique. First, we observed that the cell lysis technique and associated amount of input DNA had an important role in determining the DNA library quality. Second, we found that our transposon-based method provided a more even coverage distribution and matched more sequences of a reference genome than multiple displacement amplification, a commonly used method for metagenomic sequencing. We then demonstrated the method on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus field populations from the Sargasso Sea and California Current isolated by flow cytometric sorting and found clear environmentally related differences in ecotype distributions and gene abundances. In addition, we saw a significant correspondence between metagenomic libraries sequenced with our technique and regular sequencing of bulk DNA. Our results show that this targeted method is a viable replacement for regular metagenomic approaches and will be useful for identifying the biogeography and genome content of specific marine cyanobacterial populations.
PMCID: PMC3911227  PMID: 24296495
15.  ProPortal: a resource for integrated systems biology of Prochlorococcus and its phage 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(Database issue):D632-D640.
ProPortal ( is a database containing genomic, metagenomic, transcriptomic and field data for the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus. Our goal is to provide a source of cross-referenced data across multiple scales of biological organization—from the genome to the ecosystem—embracing the full diversity of ecotypic variation within this microbial taxon, its sister group, Synechococcus and phage that infect them. The site currently contains the genomes of 13 Prochlorococcus strains, 11 Synechococcus strains and 28 cyanophage strains that infect one or both groups. Cyanobacterial and cyanophage genes are clustered into orthologous groups that can be accessed by keyword search or through a genome browser. Users can also identify orthologous gene clusters shared by cyanobacterial and cyanophage genomes. Gene expression data for Prochlorococcus ecotypes MED4 and MIT9313 allow users to identify genes that are up or downregulated in response to environmental stressors. In addition, the transcriptome in synchronized cells grown on a 24-h light–dark cycle reveals the choreography of gene expression in cells in a ‘natural’ state. Metagenomic sequences from the Global Ocean Survey from Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus and phage genomes are archived so users can examine the differences between populations from diverse habitats. Finally, an example of cyanobacterial population data from the field is included.
PMCID: PMC3245167  PMID: 22102570
16.  Synechococcus diversity in the California current as seen by RNA polymerase (rpoC1) gene sequences of isolated strains. 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1997;63(11):4298-4303.
Because they are ubiquitous in a range of aquatic environments and culture methods are relatively advanced, cyanobacteria may be useful models for understanding the extent of evolutionary adaptation of prokaryotes in general to environmental gradients. The roles of environmental variables such as light and nutrients in influencing cyanobacterial genetic diversity are still poorly characterized, however. In this study, a total of 15 Synechococcus strains were isolated from the oligotrophic edge of the California Current from two depths (5 and 95 m) with large differences in light intensity, light quality, and nutrient concentrations. RNA polymerase gene (rpoC1) fragment sequences of the strains revealed two major genetic lineages, distinct from other marine or freshwater cyanobacterial isolates or groups seen in shotgun-cloned sequences from the oligotrophic Atlantic Ocean. The California Current low-phycourobilin (CCLPUB) group represented by six isolates in a single lineage was less diverse than the California Current high-phycourobilin (CCHPUB) group with nine isolates in three relatively divergent lineages. The former was found to be the closest known genetic group to Prochlorococcus spp., a chlorophyll b-containing cyanobacterial group. Having an isolate from this group will be valuable for looking at the molecular changes necessary for the transition from the use of phycobiliproteins to chlorophyll b as light-harvesting pigments. Both of the CCHPUB and CCLPUB groups included strains obtained from surface (5 m) and deep (95 m) samples. Thus, contrary to expectations, there was no clear correlation between sampling depth and isolation of genetic groups, despite the large environmental gradients present. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration with isolates that genetically divergent Synechococcus groups coexist in the same seawater sample.
PMCID: PMC168750  PMID: 9361417
17.  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
18.  Niche-Partitioning of Prochlorococcus Populations in a Stratified Water Column in the Eastern North Atlantic Ocean† 
The in situ community structure of Prochlorococcus populations in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean was examined by analysis of Prochlorococcus 16S rDNA sequences with three independent approaches: cloning and sequencing, hybridization to specific oligonucleotide probes, and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). The hybridization of high-light (HL) and low-light (LL) Prochlorococcus genotype-specific probes to two depth profiles of PCR-amplified 16S rDNA sequences revealed that in these two stratified water columns, an obvious niche-partitioning of Prochlorococcus genotypes occurred. In each water column a shift from the HL to the LL genotype was observed, a transition correlating with the depth of the surface mixed layer (SML). Only the HL genotype was found in the SML in each water column, whereas the LL genotype was distributed below the SML. The range of in situ irradiance to which each genotype was subjected within these distinct niches was consistent with growth irradiance studies of cultured HL- and LL-adapted Prochlorococcus strains. DGGE analysis and the sequencing of Prochlorococcus 16S rDNA clones were in full agreement with the genotype-specific oligonucleotide probe hybridization data. These observations of a partitioning of Prochlorococcus genotypes in a stratified water column provide a genetic basis for the dim and bright Prochlorococcus populations observed in flow cytometric signatures in several oceanic provinces.
PMCID: PMC91382  PMID: 10347047
19.  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
20.  Application of Pyrosequencing Method for Investigating the Diversity of Synechococcus Subcluster 5.1 in Open Ocean 
Microbes and Environments  2013;29(1):17-22.
Synechococcus are distributed throughout the world’s oceans and are composed of diverse genetic lineages. However, as they are much less abundant than Prochlorococcus in oligotrophic open oceans, their in-depth genetic diversity cannot be investigated using commonly used primers targeting both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. Thus, in this study, we designed a primer specific to the 16S–23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of the Synechococcus subcluster 5.1. Using the primer, we could selectively amplify Synechococcus sequences in oligotrophic seawater samples. Further, we showed that a barcoded amplicon pyrosequencing method could be applicable to investigate Synechococcus diversity using sequences retrieved in GenBank and obtained from environmental samples. Allowing sequence analyses of a large number of samples, this high-throughput method would be useful to study global biodiversity and biogeographic patterns of Synechococcus in marine environments.
PMCID: PMC4041225  PMID: 24389411
diversity; internal transcribed spacer (ITS); phylogeny; pyrosequencing; Synechococcus
21.  Cyanophycin Production in a Phycoerythrin-Containing Marine Synechococcus Strain of Unusual Phylogenetic Affinity†  
Thirty-two strains of phycoerythrin-containing marine picocyanobacteria were screened for the capacity to produce cyanophycin, a nitrogen storage compound synthesized by some, but not all, cyanobacteria. We found that one of these strains, Synechococcus sp. strain G2.1 from the Arabian Sea, was able to synthesize cyanophycin. The cyanophycin extracted from the cells was composed of roughly equimolar amounts of arginine and aspartate (29 and 35 mol%, respectively), as well as a small amount of glutamate (15 mol%). Phylogenetic analysis, based on partial 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequence data, showed that Synechococcus sp. strain G2.1 formed a well-supported clade with several strains of filamentous cyanobacteria. It was not closely related to several other well-studied marine picocyanobacteria, including Synechococcus strains PCC7002, WH7805, and WH8018 and Prochlorococcus sp. strain MIT9312. This is the first report of cyanophycin production in a phycoerythrin-containing strain of marine or halotolerant Synechococcus, and its discovery highlights the diversity of this ecologically important functional group.
PMCID: PMC123861  PMID: 11916695
22.  Swimming Marine Synechococcus Strains with Widely Different Photosynthetic Pigment Ratios Form a Monophyletic Group 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1999;65(12):5247-5251.
Unicellular marine cyanobacteria are ubiquitous in both coastal and oligotrophic regimes. The contribution of these organisms to primary production and nutrient cycling is substantial on a global scale. Natural populations of marine Synechococcus strains include multiple genetic lineages, but the link, if any, between unique phenotypic traits and specific genetic groups is still not understood. We studied the genetic diversity (as determined by the DNA-dependent RNA polymerase rpoC1 gene sequence) of a set of marine Synechococcus isolates that are able to swim. Our results show that these isolates form a monophyletic group. This finding represents the first example of correspondence between a physiological trait and a phylogenetic group in marine Synechococcus. In contrast, the phycourobilin (PUB)/phycoerythrobilin (PEB) pigment ratios of members of the motile clade varied considerably. An isolate obtained from the California Current (strain CC9703) displayed a pigment signature identical to that of nonmotile strain WH7803, which is considered a model for low-PUB/PEB-ratio strains, whereas several motile strains had higher PUB/PEB ratios than strain WH8103, which is considered a model for high-PUB/PEB-ratio strains. These findings indicate that the PUB/PEB pigment ratio is not a useful characteristic for defining phylogenetic groups of marine Synechococcus strains.
PMCID: PMC91712  PMID: 10583972
23.  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
24.  Quantitative Tracing, by Taq Nuclease Assays, of a Synechococcus Ecotype in a Highly Diversified Natural Population†  
Quantitative Taq nuclease assays (TNAs) (TaqMan PCR), nested PCR in combination with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), and epifluorescence microscopy were used to analyze the autotrophic picoplankton (APP) of Lake Constance. Microscopic analysis revealed dominance of phycoerythrin (PE)-rich Synechococcus spp. in the pelagic zone of this lake. Cells passing a 3-μm-pore-size filter were collected during the growth period of the years 1999 and 2000. The diversity of PE-rich Synechococcus spp. was examined using DGGE to analyze GC-clamped amplicons of a noncoding section of the 16S-23S intergenic spacer in the ribosomal operon. In both years, genotypes represented by three closely related PE-rich Synechococcus strains of our culture collection dominated the population, while other isolates were traced sporadically or were not detected in their original habitat by this method. For TNAs, primer-probe combinations for two taxonomic levels were used, one to quantify genomes of all known Synechococcus-type cyanobacteria in the APP of Lake Constance and one to enumerate genomes of a single ecotype represented by the PE-rich isolate Synechococcus sp. strain BO 8807. During the growth period, genome numbers of known Synechococcus spp. varied by 2 orders of magnitude (2.9 × 103 to 3.1 × 105 genomes per ml). The ecotype Synechococcus sp. strain BO 8807 was detected in every sample at concentrations between 1.6 × 101 and 1.3 × 104 genomes per ml, contributing 0.02 to 5.7% of the quantified cyanobacterial picoplankton. Although the quantitative approach taken in this study has disclosed several shortcomings in the sampling and detection methods, this study demonstrated for the first time the extensive internal dynamics that lie beneath the seemingly arbitrary variations of a population of microbial photoautotrophs in the pelagic habitat.
PMCID: PMC124134  PMID: 12200304
25.  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

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