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1.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030231
PMCID: PMC2151091  PMID: 18159947
2.  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
3.  Global distribution patterns of distinct clades of the photosynthetic picoeukaryote Ostreococcus 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(7):1095-1107.
Ostreococcus is a marine picophytoeukaryote for which culture studies indicate there are ‘high-light' and ‘low-light' adapted ecotypes. Representatives of these ecotypes fall within two to three 18S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) clades for the former and one for the latter. However, clade distributions and relationships to this form of niche partitioning are unknown in nature. We developed two quantitative PCR primer-probe sets and enumerated the proposed ecotypes in the Pacific Ocean as well as the subtropical and tropical North Atlantic. Statistical differences in factors such as salinity, temperature and NO3 indicated the ecophysiological parameters behind clade distributions are more complex than irradiance alone. Clade OII, containing the putatively low-light adapted strains, was detected at warm oligotrophic sites. In contrast, Clade OI, containing high-light adapted strains, was present in cooler mesotrophic and coastal waters. Maximal OI abundance (19 555±37 18S rDNA copies per ml) was detected in mesotrophic waters at 40 m depth, approaching the nutricline. OII was often more abundant at the deep chlorophyll maximum, when nutrient concentrations were significantly higher than at the surface (stratified euphotic zone waters). However, in mixed euphotic-zone water columns, relatively high numbers (for example, 891±107 18S rDNA copies per ml, Sargasso Sea, springtime) were detected at the surface. Both Clades OI and OII were found at multiple euphotic zone depths, but co-occurrence at the same geographical location appeared rare and was detected only in continental slope waters. In situ growth rate estimates using these primer-probes and better comprehension of physiology will enhance ecological understanding of Ostreococcus Clades OII and OI which appear to be oceanic and coastal clades, respectively.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2010.209
PMCID: PMC3146286  PMID: 21289652
picoeukaryotes; Ostreococcus; quantitative PCR; mamiellales; prasinophytes; niche differentiation
4.  Resolution of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus Ecotypes by Using 16S-23S Ribosomal DNA Internal Transcribed Spacer Sequences 
Cultured isolates of the marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus vary widely in their pigment compositions and growth responses to light and nutrients, yet show greater than 96% identity in their 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences. In order to better define the genetic variation that accompanies their physiological diversity, sequences for the 16S-23S rDNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region were determined in 32 Prochlorococcus isolates and 25 Synechococcus isolates from around the globe. Each strain examined yielded one ITS sequence that contained two tRNA genes. Dramatic variations in the length and G+C content of the spacer were observed among the strains, particularly among Prochlorococcus strains. Secondary-structure models of the ITS were predicted in order to facilitate alignment of the sequences for phylogenetic analyses. The previously observed division of Prochlorococcus into two ecotypes (called high and low-B/A after their differences in chlorophyll content) were supported, as was the subdivision of the high-B/A ecotype into four genetically distinct clades. ITS-based phylogenies partitioned marine cluster A Synechococcus into six clades, three of which can be associated with a particular phenotype (motility, chromatic adaptation, and lack of phycourobilin). The pattern of sequence divergence within and between clades is suggestive of a mode of evolution driven by adaptive sweeps and implies that each clade represents an ecologically distinct population. Furthermore, many of the clades consist of strains isolated from disparate regions of the world's oceans, implying that they are geographically widely distributed. These results provide further evidence that natural populations of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus consist of multiple coexisting ecotypes, genetically closely related but physiologically distinct, which may vary in relative abundance with changing environmental conditions.
doi:10.1128/AEM.68.3.1180-1191.2002
PMCID: PMC123739  PMID: 11872466
5.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009569
PMCID: PMC2835739  PMID: 20224766
6.  Prochlorococcus, a Marine Photosynthetic Prokaryote of Global Significance 
The minute photosynthetic prokaryote Prochlorococcus, which was discovered about 10 years ago, has proven exceptional from several standpoints. Its tiny size (0.5 to 0.7 μm in diameter) makes it the smallest known photosynthetic organism. Its ubiquity within the 40°S to 40°N latitudinal band of oceans and its occurrence at high density from the surface down to depths of 200 m make it presumably the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth. Prochlorococcus typically divides once a day in the subsurface layer of oligotrophic areas, where it dominates the photosynthetic biomass. It also possesses a remarkable pigment complement which includes divinyl derivatives of chlorophyll a (Chl a) and Chl b, the so-called Chl a2 and Chl b2, and, in some strains, small amounts of a new type of phycoerythrin. Phylogenetically, Prochlorococcus has also proven fascinating. Recent studies suggest that it evolved from an ancestral cyanobacterium by reducing its cell and genome sizes and by recruiting a protein originally synthesized under conditions of iron depletion to build a reduced antenna system as a replacement for large phycobilisomes. Environmental constraints clearly played a predominant role in Prochlorococcus evolution. Its tiny size is an advantage for its adaptation to nutrient-deprived environments. Furthermore, genetically distinct ecotypes, with different antenna systems and ecophysiological characteristics, are present at depth and in surface waters. This vertical species variation has allowed Prochlorococcus to adapt to the natural light gradient occurring in the upper layer of oceans. The present review critically assesses the basic knowledge acquired about Prochlorococcus both in the ocean and in the laboratory.
PMCID: PMC98958  PMID: 10066832
7.  The diversity of cyanomyovirus populations along a North–South Atlantic Ocean transect 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(11):1713-1721.
Viruses that infect the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus have the potential to impact the growth, productivity, diversity and abundance of their hosts. In this study, changes in the microdiversity of cyanomyoviruses were investigated in 10 environmental samples taken along a North–South Atlantic Ocean transect using a myoviral-specific PCR-sequencing approach. Phylogenetic analyses of 630 viral g20 clones from this study, with 786 published g20 sequences, revealed that myoviral populations in the Atlantic Ocean had higher diversity than previously reported, with several novel putative g20 clades. Some of these clades were detected throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Multivariate statistical analyses did not reveal any significant correlations between myoviral diversity and environmental parameters, although myoviral diversity appeared to be lowest in samples collected from the north and south of the transect where Prochlorococcus diversity was also lowest. The results were correlated to the abundance and diversity of the co-occurring Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations, but revealed no significant correlations to either of the two potential host genera. This study provides evidence that cyanophages have extremely high and variable diversity and are distributed over large areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2011.54
PMCID: PMC3197166  PMID: 21633395
cyanophage; virus; Prochlorococcus; marine; g20; genetic diversity
8.  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.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2012.00213
PMCID: PMC3377940  PMID: 22723796
microbial ecology; cyanobacteria; Synechococcus; microbial diversity; quantitative PCR; multiple gene locus phylogeny; biogeography; ecotype
9.  Patterns of ecological specialization among microbial populations in the Red Sea and diverse oligotrophic marine environments 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(6):1780-1797.
Large swaths of the nutrient-poor surface ocean are dominated numerically by cyanobacteria (Prochlorococcus), cyanobacterial viruses (cyanophage), and alphaproteobacteria (SAR11). How these groups thrive in the diverse physicochemical environments of different oceanic regions remains poorly understood. Comparative metagenomics can reveal adaptive responses linked to ecosystem-specific selective pressures. The Red Sea is well-suited for studying adaptation of pelagic-microbes, with salinities, temperatures, and light levels at the extreme end for the surface ocean, and low nutrient concentrations, yet no metagenomic studies have been done there. The Red Sea (high salinity, high light, low N and P) compares favorably with the Mediterranean Sea (high salinity, low P), Sargasso Sea (low P), and North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (high light, low N). We quantified the relative abundance of genetic functions among Prochlorococcus, cyanophage, and SAR11 from these four regions. Gene frequencies indicate selection for phosphorus acquisition (Mediterranean/Sargasso), DNA repair and high-light responses (Red Sea/Pacific Prochlorococcus), and osmolyte C1 oxidation (Red Sea/Mediterranean SAR11). The unexpected connection between salinity-dependent osmolyte production and SAR11 C1 metabolism represents a potentially major coevolutionary adaptation and biogeochemical flux. Among Prochlorococcus and cyanophage, genes enriched in specific environments had ecotype distributions similar to nonenriched genes, suggesting that inter-ecotype gene transfer is not a major source of environment-specific adaptation. Clustering of metagenomes using gene frequencies shows similarities in populations (Red Sea with Pacific, Mediterranean with Sargasso) that belie their geographic distances. Taken together, the genetic functions enriched in specific environments indicate competitive strategies for maintaining carrying capacity in the face of physical stressors and low nutrient availability.
doi:10.1002/ece3.593
PMCID: PMC3686209  PMID: 23789085
Cyanophage; metagenomics; osmolyte; Pelagibacter; population genomics; Prochlorococcus; SAR11
10.  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.
doi:10.1128/MMBR.00035-08
PMCID: PMC2698417  PMID: 19487728
11.  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.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00358-06
PMCID: PMC1636174  PMID: 16936060
12.  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.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2011.106
PMCID: PMC3260499  PMID: 21955990
cyanobacteria; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; diversity; global ocean; 16S-23S rRNA ITS
13.  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.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2010.186
PMCID: PMC3131852  PMID: 21124492
16S rRNA; Equatorial Pacific; HNLC; ITS; Prochlorococcus; qPCR
14.  Relationship between Abundance and Specific Activity of Bacterioplankton in Open Ocean Surface Waters 
Marine microbial communities are complex and dynamic, and their ecology impacts biogeochemical cycles in pelagic ecosystems. Yet, little is known about the relative activities of different microbial populations within genetically diverse communities. We used rRNA as a proxy for activity to quantify the relative specific activities (rRNA/ribosomal DNA [rDNA or rRNA genes]) of the eubacterial populations and to identify locations or clades for which there are uncouplings between specific activity and abundance. After analyzing 1.6 million sequences from 16S rDNA and rRNA (cDNA) libraries from two euphotic depths from a representative site in the Pacific Ocean, we show that although there is an overall positive relationship between the abundances (rDNAs) and activities (rRNAs) among populations of the bacterial community, for some populations these measures are uncoupled. Different ecological strategies are exemplified by the two numerically dominant clades at this site: the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is abundant but disproportionately more active, while the heterotrophic SAR11 is abundant but less active. Other rare populations, such as Alteromonas, have high specific activities in spite of their low abundances, suggesting intense population regulation. More detailed analyses using a complementary quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based approach of measuring relative specific activity for Prochlorococcus populations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans also show that specific activity, but not abundance, reflects the key drivers of light and nutrients in this system; our results also suggest substantial top-down regulation (e.g., grazing, viruses, or organismal interactions) or transport (e.g., mixing, immigration, or emigration) of these populations. Thus, we show here that abundance and specific activity can be uncoupled in open ocean systems and that describing both is critical to characterizing microbial communities and predicting marine ecosystem functioning and responses to change.
doi:10.1128/AEM.02155-12
PMCID: PMC3536108  PMID: 23087033
15.  Archaeal amoA gene diversity points to distinct biogeography of ammonia-oxidizing Crenarchaeota in the ocean 
Environmental Microbiology  2013;15(5):1647-1658.
Mesophilic ammonia-oxidizing Archaea (AOA) are abundant in a diverse range of marine environments, including the deep ocean, as revealed by the quantification of the archaeal amoA gene encoding the alpha-subunit of the ammonia monooxygenase. Using two different amoA primer sets, two distinct ecotypes of marine Crenarchaeota Group I (MCGI) were detected in the waters of the tropical Atlantic and the coastal Arctic. The HAC-AOA ecotype (high ammonia concentration AOA) was ≍ 8000 times and 15 times more abundant in the coastal Arctic and the top 300 m layer of the open equatorial Atlantic, respectively, than the LAC-AOA (low ammonia concentration AOA) ecotype. In contrast, the LAC-AOA ecotype dominated the lower meso- and bathypelagic waters of the tropical Atlantic (≍ 50 times more abundant than the HAC-AOA) where ammonia concentrations are well below the detection limit using conventional spectrophotometric or fluorometric methods. Cluster analysis of the sequences from the clone libraries obtained by the two amoA primer sets revealed two phylogenetically distinct clusters. Taken together, our results suggest the presence of two ecotypes of archaeal ammonia oxidizers corresponding to the medium (1.24 µM on average in the coastal Arctic) and low ammonia concentration (< 0.01 µM) in the shallow and the deep waters respectively.
doi:10.1111/j.1462-2920.2012.02801.x
PMCID: PMC3712475  PMID: 22690844
16.  The Challenge of Regulation in a Minimal Photoautotroph: Non-Coding RNAs in Prochlorococcus 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000173.
Prochlorococcus, an extremely small cyanobacterium that is very abundant in the world's oceans, has a very streamlined genome. On average, these cells have about 2,000 genes and very few regulatory proteins. The limited capability of regulation is thought to be a result of selection imposed by a relatively stable environment in combination with a very small genome. Furthermore, only ten non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), which play crucial regulatory roles in all forms of life, have been described in Prochlorococcus. Most strains also lack the RNA chaperone Hfq, raising the question of how important this mode of regulation is for these cells. To explore this question, we examined the transcription of intergenic regions of Prochlorococcus MED4 cells subjected to a number of different stress conditions: changes in light qualities and quantities, phage infection, or phosphorus starvation. Analysis of Affymetrix microarray expression data from intergenic regions revealed 276 novel transcriptional units. Among these were 12 new ncRNAs, 24 antisense RNAs (asRNAs), as well as 113 short mRNAs. Two additional ncRNAs were identified by homology, and all 14 new ncRNAs were independently verified by Northern hybridization and 5′RACE. Unlike its reduced suite of regulatory proteins, the number of ncRNAs relative to genome size in Prochlorococcus is comparable to that found in other bacteria, suggesting that RNA regulators likely play a major role in regulation in this group. Moreover, the ncRNAs are concentrated in previously identified genomic islands, which carry genes of significance to the ecology of this organism, many of which are not of cyanobacterial origin. Expression profiles of some of these ncRNAs suggest involvement in light stress adaptation and/or the response to phage infection consistent with their location in the hypervariable genomic islands.
Author Summary
Prochlorococcus is the most abundant phototroph in the vast, nutrient-poor areas of the ocean. It plays an important role in the ocean carbon cycle, and is a key component of the base of the food web. All cells share a core set of about 1,200 genes, augmented with a variable number of “flexible” genes. Many of the latter are located in genomic islands—hypervariable regions of the genome that encode functions important in differentiating the niches of “ecotypes.” Of major interest is how cells with such a small genome regulate cellular processes, as they lack many of the regulatory proteins commonly found in bacteria. We show here that contrary to the regulatory proteins, ncRNAs are present at levels typical of bacteria, revealing that they might have a disproportional regulatory role in Prochlorococcus—likely an adaptation to the extremely low-nutrient conditions of the open oceans, combined with the constraints of a small genome. Some of the ncRNAs were differentially expressed under stress conditions, and a high number of them were found to be associated with genomic islands, suggesting functional links between these RNAs and the response of Prochlorococcus to particular environmental challenges.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000173
PMCID: PMC2518516  PMID: 18769676
17.  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.
doi:10.1128/AEM.72.1.557-564.2006
PMCID: PMC1352302  PMID: 16391092
18.  Out of the Pacific and Back Again: Insights into the Matrilineal History of Pacific Killer Whale Ecotypes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24980.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are the most widely distributed marine mammals and have radiated to occupy a range of ecological niches. Disparate sympatric types are found in the North Atlantic, Antarctic and North Pacific oceans, however, little is known about the underlying mechanisms driving divergence. Previous phylogeographic analysis using complete mitogenomes yielded a bifurcating tree of clades corresponding to described ecotypes. However, there was low support at two nodes at which two Pacific and two Atlantic clades diverged. Here we apply further phylogenetic and coalescent analyses to partitioned mitochondrial genome sequences to better resolve the pattern of past radiations in this species. Our phylogenetic reconstructions indicate that in the North Pacific, sympatry between the maternal lineages that make up each ecotype arises from secondary contact. Both the phylogenetic reconstructions and a clinal decrease in diversity suggest a North Pacific to North Atlantic founding event, and the later return of killer whales to the North Pacific. Therefore, ecological divergence could have occurred during the allopatric phase through drift or selection and/or may have either commenced or have been consolidated upon secondary contact due to resource competition. The estimated timing of bidirectional migration between the North Pacific and North Atlantic coincided with the previous inter-glacial when the leakage of fauna from the Indo-Pacific into the Atlantic via the Agulhas current was particularly vigorous.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024980
PMCID: PMC3176785  PMID: 21949818
19.  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.
doi:10.1128/AEM.02834-13
PMCID: PMC3911227  PMID: 24296495
20.  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.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.89
PMCID: PMC3526172  PMID: 22895163
HNLC; Prochlorococcus; siderophore
21.  The Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition: Metagenomic Characterization of Viruses within Aquatic Microbial Samples 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(1):e1456.
Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on our planet. Interactions between viruses and their hosts impact several important biological processes in the world's oceans such as horizontal gene transfer, microbial diversity and biogeochemical cycling. Interrogation of microbial metagenomic sequence data collected as part of the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Expedition (GOS) revealed a high abundance of viral sequences, representing approximately 3% of the total predicted proteins. Cluster analyses of the viral sequences revealed hundreds to thousands of viral genes encoding various metabolic and cellular functions. Quantitative analyses of viral genes of host origin performed on the viral fraction of aquatic samples confirmed the viral nature of these sequences and suggested that significant portions of aquatic viral communities behave as reservoirs of such genetic material. Distributional and phylogenetic analyses of these host-derived viral sequences also suggested that viral acquisition of environmentally relevant genes of host origin is a more abundant and widespread phenomenon than previously appreciated. The predominant viral sequences identified within microbial fractions originated from tailed bacteriophages and exhibited varying global distributions according to viral family. Recruitment of GOS viral sequence fragments against 27 complete aquatic viral genomes revealed that only one reference bacteriophage genome was highly abundant and was closely related, but not identical, to the cyanomyovirus P-SSM4. The co-distribution across all sampling sites of P-SSM4-like sequences with the dominant ecotype of its host, Prochlorococcus supports the classification of the viral sequences as P-SSM4-like and suggests that this virus may influence the abundance, distribution and diversity of one of the most dominant components of picophytoplankton in oligotrophic oceans. In summary, the abundance and broad geographical distribution of viral sequences within microbial fractions, the prevalence of genes among viral sequences that encode microbial physiological function and their distinct phylogenetic distribution lend strong support to the notion that viral-mediated gene acquisition is a common and ongoing mechanism for generating microbial diversity in the marine environment.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001456
PMCID: PMC2186209  PMID: 18213365
22.  A Widespread Chromosomal Inversion Polymorphism Contributes to a Major Life-History Transition, Local Adaptation, and Reproductive Isolation 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(9):e1000500.
A set of experiments demonstrates the involvement of a chromosomal inversion in the adaptive transition between annual and perennial ecotypes of the yellow monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus
The role of chromosomal inversions in adaptation and speciation is controversial. Historically, inversions were thought to contribute to these processes either by directly causing hybrid sterility or by facilitating the maintenance of co-adapted gene complexes. Because inversions suppress recombination when heterozygous, a recently proposed local adaptation mechanism predicts that they will spread if they capture alleles at multiple loci involved in divergent adaptation to contrasting environments. Many empirical studies have found inversion polymorphisms linked to putatively adaptive phenotypes or distributed along environmental clines. However, direct involvement of an inversion in local adaptation and consequent ecological reproductive isolation has not to our knowledge been demonstrated in nature. In this study, we discovered that a chromosomal inversion polymorphism is geographically widespread, and we test the extent to which it contributes to adaptation and reproductive isolation under natural field conditions. Replicated crosses between the prezygotically reproductively isolated annual and perennial ecotypes of the yellow monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus, revealed that alternative chromosomal inversion arrangements are associated with life-history divergence over thousands of kilometers across North America. The inversion polymorphism affected adaptive flowering time divergence and other morphological traits in all replicated crosses between four pairs of annual and perennial populations. To determine if the inversion contributes to adaptation and reproductive isolation in natural populations, we conducted a novel reciprocal transplant experiment involving outbred lines, where alternative arrangements of the inversion were reciprocally introgressed into the genetic backgrounds of each ecotype. Our results demonstrate for the first time in nature the contribution of an inversion to adaptation, an annual/perennial life-history shift, and multiple reproductive isolating barriers. These results are consistent with the local adaptation mechanism being responsible for the distribution of the two inversion arrangements across the geographic range of M. guttatus and that locally adaptive inversion effects contribute directly to reproductive isolation. Such a mechanism may be partially responsible for the observation that closely related species often differ by multiple chromosomal rearrangements.
Author Summary
Genome rearrangements that change the order of genes along a chromosome are known as inversions and have long been hypothesized to be involved in the origin of species. Yet the way inversions contribute to adaptation and speciation remains mysterious. In this study, we identified a geographically widespread adaptive inversion polymorphism in the yellow monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus. One arrangement of the inverted region is found in an annual ecotype of this species that lives in Mediterranean habitats characterized by reduced soil water availability in the summer. The other arrangement appears in a perennial ecotype that lives in habitats with high year-round soil moisture. The inversion was observed to influence morphological and flowering time differences between these ecotypes across most of western North America. To test whether the inversion polymorphism contributes to adaptation and reproductive isolation, we conducted a field experiment by breeding plants to reciprocally swap the alternative chromosomal arrangements between the annual and perennial genetic backgrounds. We demonstrated that this inversion polymorphism contributes to local adaptation, the annual/perennial life-history transition, and three reproductive isolating barriers. These results are consistent with the theory that adaptation to local environments can drive the spread of chromosomal inversions and promote speciation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000500
PMCID: PMC2946948  PMID: 20927411
23.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016805
PMCID: PMC3033426  PMID: 21304826
24.  Fine-Scale Distribution Patterns of Synechococcus Ecological Diversity in Microbial Mats of Mushroom Spring, Yellowstone National Park▿† 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(21):7689-7697.
Past analyses of sequence diversity in high-resolution protein-encoding genes have identified putative ecological species of unicellular cyanobacteria in the genus Synechococcus, which are specialized to 60°C but not 65°C in Mushroom Spring microbial mats. Because these studies were limited to only two habitats, we studied the distribution of Synechococcus sequence variants at 1°C intervals along the effluent flow channel and at 80-μm vertical-depth intervals throughout the upper photic layer of the microbial mat. Diversity at the psaA locus, which encodes a photosynthetic reaction center protein (PsaA), was sampled by PCR amplification, cloning, and sequencing methods at 60, 63, and 65°C sites. The evolutionary simulation programs Ecotype Simulation and AdaptML were used to identify putative ecologically distinct populations (ecotypes). Ecotype Simulation predicted a higher number of putative ecotypes in cases where habitat variation was limited, while AdaptML predicted a higher number of ecologically distinct phylogenetic clades in cases where habitat variation was high. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis was used to track the distribution of dominant sequence variants of ecotype populations relative to temperature variation and to O2, pH, and spectral irradiance variation, as measured using microsensors. Different distributions along effluent channel flow and vertical gradients, where temperature, light, and O2 concentrations are known to vary, confirmed the ecological distinctness of putative ecotypes.
doi:10.1128/AEM.05927-11
PMCID: PMC3209189  PMID: 21890675
25.  Contribution of Archaea to Total Prokaryotic Production in the Deep Atlantic Ocean 
Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) in combination with polynucleotide probes revealed that the two major groups of planktonic Archaea (Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota) exhibit a different distribution pattern in the water column of the Pacific subtropical gyre and in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current system. While Euryarchaeota were found to be more dominant in nearsurface waters, Crenarchaeota were relatively more abundant in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic waters. We determined the abundance of archaea in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic North Atlantic along a south-north transect of more than 4,000 km. Using an improved catalyzed reporter deposition-FISH (CARD-FISH) method and specific oligonucleotide probes, we found that archaea were consistently more abundant than bacteria below a 100-m depth. Combining microautoradiography with CARD-FISH revealed a high fraction of metabolically active cells in the deep ocean. Even at a 3,000-m depth, about 16% of the bacteria were taking up leucine. The percentage of Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeaota taking up leucine did not follow a specific trend, with depths ranging from 6 to 35% and 3 to 18%, respectively. The fraction of Crenarchaeota taking up inorganic carbon increased with depth, while Euryarchaeota taking up inorganic carbon decreased from 200 m to 3,000 m in depth. The ability of archaea to take up inorganic carbon was used as a proxy to estimate archaeal cell production and to compare this archaeal production with total prokaryotic production measured via leucine incorporation. We estimate that archaeal production in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic North Atlantic contributes between 13 to 27% to the total prokaryotic production in the oxygen minimum layer and 41 to 84% in the Labrador Sea Water, declining to 10 to 20% in the North Atlantic Deep Water. Thus, planktonic archaea are actively growing in the dark ocean although at lower growth rates than bacteria and might play a significant role in the oceanic carbon cycle.
doi:10.1128/AEM.71.5.2303-2309.2005
PMCID: PMC1087563  PMID: 15870315

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