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we put our current knowledge of marine picocyanobacterial genomics into an environmental context and present previously unpublished genomic information arising from extensive genomic comparisons in order to provide insights into the adaptations of these marine microbes to their environment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.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, which numerically dominate vast oceanic areas, are the two most abundant oxygenic phototrophs on Earth. Although they require solar energy for photosynthesis, excess light and associated high UV radiations can induce high levels of oxidative stress that may have deleterious effects on their growth and productivity. Here, we compared the photophysiologies of the model strains Prochlorococcus marinus PCC 9511 and Synechococcus sp. WH7803 grown under a bell-shaped light/dark cycle of high visible light supplemented or not with UV. Prochlorococcus exhibited a higher sensitivity to photoinactivation than Synechococcus under both conditions, as shown by a larger drop of photosystem II (PSII) quantum yield at noon and different diel patterns of the D1 protein pool. In the presence of UV, the PSII repair rate was significantly depressed at noon in Prochlorococcus compared to Synechococcus. Additionally, Prochlorococcus was more sensitive than Synechococcus to oxidative stress, as shown by the different degrees of PSII photoinactivation after addition of hydrogen peroxide. A transcriptional analysis also revealed dramatic discrepancies between the two organisms in the diel expression patterns of several genes involved notably in the biosynthesis and/or repair of photosystems, light-harvesting complexes, CO2 fixation as well as protection mechanisms against light, UV, and oxidative stress, which likely translate profound differences in their light-controlled regulation. Altogether our results suggest that while Synechococcus has developed efficient ways to cope with light and UV stress, Prochlorococcus cells seemingly survive stressful hours of the day by launching a minimal set of protection mechanisms and by temporarily bringing down several key metabolic processes. This study provides unprecedented insights into understanding the distinct depth distributions and dynamics of these two picocyanobacteria in the field.
marine cyanobacteria; Synechococcus; Prochlorococcus; light/dark cycle; light stress; UV radiations; oxidative stress; photophysiology
Picocyanobacteria represented by Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus have an important role in oceanic carbon fixation and nutrient cycling. In this study, we compared the community composition of picocyanobacteria from diverse marine ecosystems ranging from estuary to open oceans, tropical to polar oceans and surface to deep water, based on the sequences of 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS). A total of 1339 ITS sequences recovered from 20 samples unveiled diverse and several previously unknown clades of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. Six high-light (HL)-adapted Prochlorococcus clades were identified, among which clade HLVI had not been described previously. Prochlorococcus clades HLIII, HLIV and HLV, detected in the Equatorial Pacific samples, could be related to the HNLC clades recently found in the high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll (HNLC), iron-depleted tropical oceans. At least four novel Synechococcus clades (out of six clades in total) in subcluster 5.3 were found in subtropical open oceans and the South China Sea. A niche partitioning with depth was observed in the Synechococcus subcluster 5.3. Members of Synechococcus subcluster 5.2 were dominant in the high-latitude waters (northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea), suggesting a possible cold-adaptation of some marine Synechococcus in this subcluster. A distinct shift of the picocyanobacterial community was observed from the Bering Sea to the Chukchi Sea, which reflected the change of water temperature. Our study demonstrates that oceanic systems contain a large pool of diverse picocyanobacteria, and further suggest that new genotypes or ecotypes of picocyanobacteria will continue to emerge, as microbial consortia are explored with advanced sequencing technology.
cyanobacteria; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; diversity; global ocean; 16S-23S rRNA ITS
By using microautoradiography, light-stimulated utilization of dissolved amino acids for natural marine phytoplankton assemblages was demonstrated. The <2-μm-size (diameter) picoplankton, known to be a dominant fraction of marine primary production, revealed a widespread capability for this process. Autofluorescent (chlorophyll a-containing) picoplankton and some larger phytoplankton from diverse oceanic locations, as well as isolates of the representative cyanobacterial picoplankton Synechococcus spp. (WH7803, WH8101), showed light-stimulated incorporation of amino acids at trace concentrations. Dark-mediated amino acid utilization was dominated by nonfluorescent bacterial populations. Among autofluorescent picoplankton, light-stimulated exceeded dark-mediated amino acid incorporation by 5 to 75%; light-stimulated amino acid incorporation was only partially blocked by the photosystem II inhibitor 3(3,4-dichloro-phenyl)-1,1-dimethy-lurea (2 × 10-5 M), suggesting a photoheterotrophic incorporation mechanism. Parallel light versus dark incubations with glucose and mannitol indicated a lack of light-stimulated utilization of these nonnitrogenous compounds. Since marine primary production is frequently nitrogen limited, light-mediated auxotrophic utilization of amino acids and possibly other dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) constituents may represent exploitation of the relatively large DON pool in the face of dissolved inorganic nitrogen depletion. This process (i) increases the efficiency of DON retention at the base of oceanic food webs and (ii) may in part be responsible for relatively high rates of picoplankton production under conditions of chronic dissolved inorganic nitrogen limitation. Picoplanktonic recycling of organic matter via this process has important ramifications with respect to trophic transfer via the “microbial loop.”
Regulatory small RNAs (sRNAs) have crucial roles in the adaptive responses of bacteria to changes in the environment. Thus far, potential regulatory RNAs have been studied mainly in marine picocyanobacteria in genetically intractable Prochlorococcus, rendering their molecular analysis difficult. Synechococcus sp. WH7803 is a model cyanobacterium, representative of the picocyanobacteria from the mesotrophic areas of the ocean. Similar to the closely related Prochlorococcus it possesses a relatively streamlined genome and a small number of genes, but is genetically tractable. Here, a comparative genome analysis was performed for this and four additional marine Synechococcus to identify the suite of possible sRNAs and other RNA elements. Based on the prediction and on complementary microarray profiling, we have identified several known as well as 32 novel sRNAs. Some sRNAs overlap adjacent coding regions, for instance for the central photosynthetic gene psbA. Several of these novel sRNAs responded specifically to environmentally relevant stress conditions. Among them are six sRNAs changing their accumulation level under cold stress, six responding to high light and two to iron limitation. Target predictions suggested genes encoding components of the light-harvesting apparatus as targets of sRNAs originating from genomic islands and that one of the iron-regulated sRNAs might be a functional homolog of RyhB. These data suggest that marine Synechococcus mount adaptive responses to these different stresses involving regulatory sRNAs.
cyanobacteria; gene expression regulation; light stress; regulatory RNA
Picocyanobacteria of the genus Synechococcus are important contributors to marine primary production and are ubiquitous in the world's oceans. This genus is genetically diverse, and at least 10 discrete lineages or clades have been identified phylogenetically. However, little if anything is known about the genetic attributes which characterize particular lineages or are unique to specific strains. Here, we used a suppression subtractive hybridization (SSH) approach to identify strain- and clade-specific genes in two well-characterized laboratory strains, Synechococcus sp. strain WH8103 (clade III) and Synechococcus sp. strain WH7803 (clade V). Among the genes that were identified as potentially unique to each strain were genes encoding proteins that may be involved in specific predator avoidance, including a glycosyltransferase in strain WH8103 and a permease component of an ABC-type polysaccharide/polyol phosphate export system in WH7803. During this work the genome of one of these strains, WH7803, became available. This allowed assessment of the number of false-positive sequences (i.e., sequences present in the tester genome) present among the SSH-enriched sequences. We found that approximately 9% of the WH8103 sequences were potential false-positive sequences, which demonstrated that caution should be used when this technology is used to assess genomic differences in genetically similar bacterial strains.
Photoinactivation of photosystem II (PSII), the light-induced loss of ability to evolve oxygen, is an inevitable event during normal photosynthesis, exacerbated by saturating light but counteracted by repair via new protein synthesis. The photoinactivation of PSII is dependent on the dosage of light: in the absence of repair, typically one PSII is photoinactivated per 10(7) photons, although the exact quantum yield of photoinactivation is modulated by a number of factors, and decreases as fewer active PSII targets are available. PSII complexes initially appear to be photoinactivated independently; however, when less than 30% functional PSII complexes remain, they seem to be protected by strongly dissipative PSII reaction centres in several plant species examined so far, a mechanism which we term 'inactive PSII-mediated quenching'. This mechanism appears to require a pH gradient across the photosynthetic membrane for its optimal operation. The residual fraction of functional PSII complexes may, in turn, aid in the recovery of photoinactivated PSII complexes when conditions become less severe. This mechanism may be important for the photosynthetic apparatus in extreme environments such as those experienced by over-wintering evergreen plants, desert plants exposed to drought and full sunlight and shade plants in sustained sunlight.
Photoinactivation of photosystem II (PS II) is a light-dependent process that frequently leads to break-down and replacement of the D1 polypeptide. Photoinhibition occurs when the rate of photoinactivation is greater than the rate at which D1 is replaced and results in a decrease in the maximum efficiency of PS II photochemistry. Downregulation, which increases non-radiative decay within PS II, also decreases the maximum efficiency of PS II photochemistry and plays an important role in protecting against photoinhibition by reducing the yield of photoinactivation. The yield of photoinactivation has been shown to be relatively insensitive to photosynthetically active photon flux density (PPFD). Formation of the P680 radical (P680+), through charge separation at PS II, generation of triplet-state P680 (3P680*), through intersystem crossing and charge recombination, and double reduction of the primary stable electron acceptor of PS II (the plastoquinone, Q(A)) are all potentially critical steps in the triggering of photoinactivation. In this paper, these processes are assessed using fluorescence data from attached leaves of higher plant species, in the context of a Stern-Volmer model for downregulation and the reversible radical pair equilibrium model. It is shown that the yield of P680+ is very sensitive to PPFD and that downregulation has very little effect on its production. Consequently, it is unlikely to be the trigger for photoinactivation. The yields of 3P680* generated through charge recombination or intersystem crossing are both less sensitive to PPFD than the yield of P680+ and are both decreased by down regulation. The yield of doubly reduced Q(A) increases with incident photon flux density at low levels, but is relatively insensitive at moderate to high levels, and is greatly decreased by downregulation. Consequently, 3P680* and doubly reduced Q(A) are both viable as triggers of photoinactivation.
Lincomycin-treated pumpkin leaves were illuminated with either continuous light or saturating single-turnover xenon flashes to study the dependence of photoinactivation of photosystem II (PSII) on the mode of delivery of light. The flash energy and the time interval between the flashes were varied between the experiments, and photoinactivation was measured with oxygen evolution and the ratio of variable to maximum fluorescence (Fv/Fm). The photoinhibitory efficiency of saturating xenon flashes was found to be directly proportional to flash energy and independent of the time interval between the flashes. These findings indicate that a low-light-specific mechanism, based on charge recombination between PSII electron acceptors and the oxygen-evolving complex, is not the main cause of photoinactivation caused by short flashes in vivo. Furthermore, the relationship between the rate constant of photoinactivation and photon flux density was similar for flashes and continuous light when Fv/Fm was used to quantify photoinactivation, suggesting that continuous-light photoinactivation has a mechanism in which the quantum yield does not depend on the mode of delivery of light. A similar quantum yield of photoinhibition for flashes and continuous light is compatible with the manganese-based photoinhibition mechanism and with mechanisms in which singlet oxygen, produced via a direct photosensitization reaction, is the agent of damage. However, the classical acceptor-side and donor-side mechanisms do not predict a similar quantum yield for flashes and continuous light.
Cucurbita maxima; light response curve; photoinhibition; photosystem II; single-turnover flashes; xenon flashes
Marine cyanobacteria of the genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the most abundant photosynthetic prokaryotes in oceanic environments, and are key contributors to global CO2 fixation, chlorophyll biomass and primary production. Cyanophages, viruses infecting cyanobacteria, are a major force in the ecology of their hosts. These phages contribute greatly to cyanobacterial mortality, therefore acting as a powerful selective force upon their hosts. Phage reproduction is based on utilization of the host transcription and translation mechanisms; therefore, differences in the G+C genomic content between cyanophages and their hosts could be a limiting factor for the translation of cyanophage genes. On the basis of comprehensive genomic analyses conducted in this study, we suggest that cyanophages of the Myoviridae family, which can infect both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, overcome this limitation by carrying additional sets of tRNAs in their genomes accommodating AT-rich codons. Whereas the tRNA genes are less needed when infecting their Prochlorococcus hosts, which possess a similar G+C content to the cyanophage, the additional tRNAs may increase the overall translational efficiency of their genes when infecting a Synechococcus host (with high G+C content), therefore potentially enabling the infection of multiple hosts.
codon usage; cross-infectivity; marine cyanophages; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; tRNA
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.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the two most abundant marine cyanobacteria. They represent a significant fraction of the total primary production of the world oceans and comprise a major fraction of the prey biomass available to phagotrophic protists. Despite relatively rapid growth rates, picocyanobacterial cell densities in open-ocean surface waters remain fairly constant, implying steady mortality due to viral infection and consumption by predators. There have been several studies on grazing by specific protists on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in culture, and of cell loss rates due to overall grazing in the field. However, the specific sources of mortality of these primary producers in the wild remain unknown. Here, we use a modification of the RNA stable isotope probing technique (RNA-SIP), which involves adding labelled cells to natural seawater, to identify active predators that are specifically consuming Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Four major groups were identified as having their 18S rRNA highly labelled: Prymnesiophyceae (Haptophyta), Dictyochophyceae (Stramenopiles), Bolidomonas (Stramenopiles) and Dinoflagellata (Alveolata). For the first three of these, the closest relative of the sequences identified was a photosynthetic organism, indicating the presence of mixotrophs among picocyanobacterial predators. We conclude that the use of RNA-SIP is a useful method to identity specific predators for picocyanobacteria in situ, and that the method could possibly be used to identify other bacterial predators important in the microbial food-web.
In phosphorus-limited marine environments, picocyanobacteria (Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus spp.) can hydrolyze naturally occurring phosphonates as a P source. Utilization of 2-aminoethylphosphonate (2-AEP) is dependent on expression of the phn genes, encoding functions required for uptake, and C–P bond cleavage. Prior work has indicated that expression of picocyanobacterial phnD, encoding the phosphonate binding protein of the phosphonate ABC transporter, is a proxy for the assimilation of phosphonates in natural assemblages of Synechococcus spp. and Prochlorococcus spp (Ilikchyan et al., 2009). In this study, we expand this work to assess seasonal phnD expression in the Sargasso Sea. By RT-PCR, our data confirm that phnD expression is constitutive for the Prochlorococcus spp. detected, but in Synechococcus spp. phnD transcription follows patterns of phosphorus availability in the mixed layer. Specifically, our data suggest that phnD is repressed in the spring when P is bioavailable following deep winter mixing. In the fall, phnD expression follows a depth-dependent pattern reflecting depleted P at the surface following summertime drawdown, and elevated P at depth.
picocyanobacteria; phosphonates; Synechococcus; Prochlorococcus; Sargasso Sea; phosphorus utilization
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.
Phages infecting marine picocyanobacteria often carry a psbA gene, which encodes a homolog to the photosynthetic reaction center protein, D1. Host encoded D1 decays during phage infection in the light. Phage encoded D1 may help to maintain photosynthesis during the lytic cycle, which in turn could bolster the production of deoxynucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs) for phage genome replication.
Methodology / Principal Findings
To explore the consequences to a phage of encoding and expressing psbA, we derive a simple model of infection for a cyanophage/host pair — cyanophage P-SSP7 and Prochlorococcus MED4— for which pertinent laboratory data are available. We first use the model to describe phage genome replication and the kinetics of psbA expression by host and phage. We then examine the contribution of phage psbA expression to phage genome replication under constant low irradiance (25 µE m−2 s−1). We predict that while phage psbA expression could lead to an increase in the number of phage genomes produced during a lytic cycle of between 2.5 and 4.5% (depending on parameter values), this advantage can be nearly negated by the cost of psbA in elongating the phage genome. Under higher irradiance conditions that promote D1 degradation, however, phage psbA confers a greater advantage to phage genome replication.
Conclusions / Significance
These analyses illustrate how psbA may benefit phage in the dynamic ocean surface mixed layer.
Given the unique problem of the extremely high potential of the oxidant P(+)(680) that is required to oxidize water to oxygen, the photoinactivation of photosystem II in vivo is inevitable, despite many photoprotective strategies. There is, however, a robustness of photosystem II, which depends partly on the highly dynamic compositional and structural heterogeneity of the cycle between functional and non-functional photosystem II complexes in response to light level. This coordinated regulation involves photon usage (energy utilization in photochemistry) and excess energy dissipation as heat, photoprotection by many molecular strategies, photoinactivation followed by photon damage and ultimately the D1 protein dynamics involved in the photosystem II repair cycle. Compelling, though indirect evidence suggests that the radical pair P(+)(680)Pheo(-) in functional PSII should be protected from oxygen. By analogy to the tentative oxygen channel of cytochrome c oxidase, oxygen may be liberated from the two water molecules bound to the catalytic site of the Mn cluster, via a specific pathway to the membrane surface. The function of the proposed oxygen pathway is to prevent O(2) from having direct access to P(+)(680)Pheo(-) and prevent the generation of singlet oxygen via the triplet-P(680) state in functional photosytem IIs. Only when the, as yet unidentified, potential trigger with a fateful first oxidative step destroys oxygen evolution, will the ensuing cascade of structural perturbations of photosystem II destroy the proposed oxygen, water and proton pathways. Then oxygen has direct access to P(+)(680)Pheo(-), singlet oxygen will be produced and may successively oxidize specific amino acids of the phosphorylated D1 protein of photosystem II dimers that are confined to appressed granal domains, thereby targeting D1 protein for eventual degradation and replacement in non-appressed thylakoid domains.
We investigated the effect of different light conditions on primary production and growth rates of three closely related freshwater picocyanobacterial strains from three different ribotypes in laboratory cultures. The primary goal was to test whether not only different pigment types (PC-rich versus PE-rich) but also other physiological characteristics suggested by different phylogenetic positions could affect growth and photosynthetic rates of picocyanobacteria. Secondly, we tested whether photacclimation is strain specific. Experiments were conducted over light intensities ranging from 6 to 1500 μmol photons m−2 s−1 with cultures that were acclimated to low (10 μmol photons m−2 s−1) and moderate (100 μmol photons m−2 s−1) irradiance. The PE-rich strain was sensitive to high light conditions and reached highest photosynthesis and growth rates at low light intensities. The relative effect of photoacclimation was different between the two PC-rich strains, with one strain showing only moderate changes in growth rates in response to the light level used during the acclimation period. Overall, growth rates differed widely in response to light intensity and photoacclimation. Photoacclimation significantly affected both primary production and growth rates of all three strains investigated. We conclude that strain-specific photoacclimation adds to the niche partitioning among closely related freshwater picocyanobacteria.
Phosphonates (Pn) are diverse organic phosphorus (P) compounds containing C–P bonds and comprise up to 25% of the high-molecular weight dissolved organic P pool in the open ocean. Pn bioavailability was suggested to influence markedly bacterial primary production in low-P areas. Using metagenomic data from the Global Ocean Sampling expedition, we show that the main potential microbial contributor in Pn utilization in oceanic surface water is the globally important marine primary producer Prochlorococcus. Moreover, a number of Prochlorococcus strains contain two distinct putative Pn uptake operons coding for ABC-type Pn transporters. On the basis of microcalorimetric measurements, we find that each of the two different putative Pn-binding protein (PhnD) homologs transcribed from these operons possesses different Pn- as well as inorganic phosphite-binding specificities. Our results suggest that Prochlorococcus adapt to low-P environments by increasing the number of Pn transporters with different specificities towards phosphite and different Pns.
phosphonate; phosphite; Prochlorococcus; phosphate
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.
marine cyanobacteria; horizontal gene transfer; introgression; quartet decomposition; supertree; genome evolution
The well-lit surface waters of oligotrophic gyres significantly contribute to global primary production. Marine cyanobacteria of the genus Prochlorococcus are a major fraction of photosynthetic organisms within these areas. Labile phosphate is considered a limiting nutrient in some oligotrophic regions such as the Caribbean Sea, and as such it is crucial to understand the physiological response of primary producers such as Prochlorococcus to fluctuations in the availability of this critical nutrient.
Prochlorococcus strains representing both high light (HL) (MIT9312) and low light (LL) (NATL2A and SS120) ecotypes were grown identically in phosphate depleted media (10 μM Pi). The three strains displayed marked differences in cellular protein expression, as determined by high throughput large scale quantitative proteomic analysis. The only strain to demonstrate a significantly different growth rate under reduced phosphate conditions was MIT9312. Additionally, there was a significant increase in phosphate-related proteins such as PhoE (> 15 fold increase) and a depression of the Rubisco protein RbcL abundance in this strain, whereas there appeared to be no significant change within the LL strain SS120.
This differential response between ecotypes highlights the relative importance of phosphate availability to each strain and from these results we draw the conclusion that the expression of phosphate acquisition mechanisms are activated at strain specific phosphate concentrations.
Prochlorococcus; PstS; PhoA; PhoE; Growth; Phosphate
The phytoplankton of the world's oceans play an integral part in global carbon cycling and food webs by conversion of carbon dioxide into organic carbon. They accomplish this task through the action of the Calvin cycle enzyme ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO). Here we have investigated the phylogenetic diversity in the form I rbcL locus in natural phytoplankton communities of the open ocean and representative clones of marine autotrophic picoplankton by mRNA or DNA amplification and sequencing of a 480 to 483 bp internal fragment of this gene. Five gene sequences were recovered from nucleic acids of natural phytoplankton communities of the Gulf of Mexico. The rbcL genes of two Prochlorococcus isolates and one Synechococcus strain (WH8007) were also sequenced. Sequences were aligned with the database of rbcL genes and subjected to both neighbor-joining and parsimony analyses. The five sequences from the natural phytoplankton community spanned nearly the entire diversity of characterized form I rbcL genes, with some sequences closely related to isolates such as Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus (forms IA and I) and prymnesiophyte algae (form ID), while other sequences were deeply rooted. Unexpectedly, the deep euphotic zone contained an organism that possesses a transcriptionally active rbcL gene closely related to that of a recently characterized manganese-oxidizing bacterium, suggesting that such chemoautotrophs may contribute to the diversity of carbon-fixing organisms in the marine euphotic zone.
The marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is very abundant in warm, nutrient-poor oceanic areas. The upper mixed layer of oceans is populated by high light-adapted Prochlorococcus ecotypes, which despite their tiny genome (~1.7 Mb) seem to have developed efficient strategies to cope with stressful levels of photosynthetically active and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. At a molecular level, little is known yet about how such minimalist microorganisms manage to sustain high growth rates and avoid potentially detrimental, UV-induced mutations to their DNA. To address this question, we studied the cell cycle dynamics of P. marinus PCC9511 cells grown under high fluxes of visible light in the presence or absence of UV radiation. Near natural light-dark cycles of both light sources were obtained using a custom-designed illumination system (cyclostat). Expression patterns of key DNA synthesis and repair, cell division, and clock genes were analyzed in order to decipher molecular mechanisms of adaptation to UV radiation.
The cell cycle of P. marinus PCC9511 was strongly synchronized by the day-night cycle. The most conspicuous response of cells to UV radiation was a delay in chromosome replication, with a peak of DNA synthesis shifted about 2 h into the dark period. This delay was seemingly linked to a strong downregulation of genes governing DNA replication (dnaA) and cell division (ftsZ, sepF), whereas most genes involved in DNA repair (such as recA, phrA, uvrA, ruvC, umuC) were already activated under high visible light and their expression levels were only slightly affected by additional UV exposure.
Prochlorococcus cells modified the timing of the S phase in response to UV exposure, therefore reducing the risk that mutations would occur during this particularly sensitive stage of the cell cycle. We identified several possible explanations for the observed timeshift. Among these, the sharp decrease in transcript levels of the dnaA gene, encoding the DNA replication initiator protein, is sufficient by itself to explain this response, since DNA synthesis starts only when the cellular concentration of DnaA reaches a critical threshold. However, the observed response likely results from a more complex combination of UV-altered biological processes.
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.
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.
Unicellular nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria are important components of marine phytoplankton. Although non-nitrogen-fixing marine phytoplankton generally exhibit high gene sequence and genomic diversity, gene sequences of natural populations and isolated strains of Crocosphaera watsonii, one of the two most abundant open ocean unicellular cyanobacteria groups, have been shown to be 98–100% identical. The low sequence diversity in Crocosphaera is a dramatic contrast to sympatric species of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, and raises the question of how genome differences can explain observed phenotypic diversity among Crocosphaera strains. Here we show, through whole genome comparisons of two phenotypically different strains, that there are strain-specific sequences in each genome, and numerous genome rearrangements, despite exceptionally low sequence diversity in shared genomic regions. Some of the strain-specific sequences encode functions that explain observed phenotypic differences, such as exopolysaccharide biosynthesis. The pattern of strain-specific sequences distributed throughout the genomes, along with rearrangements in shared sequences is evidence of significant genetic mobility that may be attributed to the hundreds of transposase genes found in both strains. Furthermore, such genetic mobility appears to be the main mechanism of strain divergence in Crocosphaera which do not accumulate DNA microheterogeneity over the vast majority of their genomes. The strain-specific sequences found in this study provide tools for future physiological studies, as well as genetic markers to help determine the relative abundance of phenotypes in natural populations.
comparative genomics; Crocosphaera; exopolysaccharide biosynthesis; genome conservation; mobile genetic elements; nitrogen fixation