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2.  Ecology of uncultured Prochlorococcus clades revealed through single-cell genomics and biogeographic analysis 
The ISME Journal  2012;7(1):184-198.
Prochlorococcus is the numerically dominant photosynthetic organism throughout much of the world's oceans, yet little is known about the ecology and genetic diversity of populations inhabiting tropical waters. To help close this gap, we examined natural Prochlorococcus communities in the tropical Pacific Ocean using a single-cell whole-genome amplification and sequencing. Analysis of the gene content of just 10 single cells from these waters added 394 new genes to the Prochlorococcus pan-genome—that is, genes never before seen in a Prochlorococcus cell. Analysis of marker genes, including the ribosomal internal transcribed sequence, from dozens of individual cells revealed several representatives from two uncultivated clades of Prochlorococcus previously identified as HNLC1 and HNLC2. While the HNLC clades can dominate Prochlorococcus communities under certain conditions, their overall geographic distribution was highly restricted compared with other clades of Prochlorococcus. In the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, these clades were only found in warm waters with low Fe and high inorganic P levels. Genomic analysis suggests that at least one of these clades thrives in low Fe environments by scavenging organic-bound Fe, a process previously unknown in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, the capacity to utilize organic-bound Fe appears to have been acquired horizontally and may be exchanged among other clades of Prochlorococcus. Finally, one of the single Prochlorococcus cells sequenced contained a partial genome of what appears to be a prophage integrated into the genome.
PMCID: PMC3526172  PMID: 22895163
HNLC; Prochlorococcus; siderophore
3.  Transcriptome response of high- and low-light-adapted Prochlorococcus strains to changing iron availability 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(10):1580-1594.
Prochlorococcus contributes significantly to ocean primary productivity. The link between primary productivity and iron in specific ocean regions is well established and iron limitation of Prochlorococcus cell division rates in these regions has been shown. However, the extent of ecotypic variation in iron metabolism among Prochlorococcus and the molecular basis for differences is not understood. Here, we examine the growth and transcriptional response of Prochlorococcus strains, MED4 and MIT9313, to changing iron concentrations. During steady state, MIT9313 sustains growth at an order-of-magnitude lower iron concentration than MED4. To explore this difference, we measured the whole-genome transcriptional response of each strain to abrupt iron starvation and rescue. Only four of the 1159 orthologs of MED4 and MIT9313 were differentially expressed in response to iron in both strains. However, in each strain, the expression of over a hundred additional genes changed, many of which are in labile genomic regions, suggesting a role for lateral gene transfer in establishing diversity of iron metabolism among Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, we found that MED4 lacks three genes near the iron-deficiency-induced gene (idiA) that are present and induced by iron stress in MIT9313. These genes are interesting targets for studying the adaptation of natural Prochlorococcus assemblages to local iron conditions as they show more diversity than other genomic regions in environmental metagenomic databases.
PMCID: PMC3176520  PMID: 21562599
cyanobacteria; iron; transcriptome
4.  Response of Prochlorococcus ecotypes to co-culture with diverse marine bacteria 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(7):1125-1132.
Interactions between microorganisms shape microbial ecosystems. Systematic studies of mixed microbes in co-culture have revealed widespread potential for growth inhibition among marine heterotrophic bacteria, but similar synoptic studies have not been done with autotroph/heterotroph pairs, nor have precise descriptions of the temporal evolution of interactions been attempted in a high-throughput system. Here, we describe patterns in the outcome of pair-wise co-cultures between two ecologically distinct, yet closely related, strains of the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus and hundreds of heterotrophic marine bacteria. Co-culture with the collection of heterotrophic strains influenced the growth of Prochlorococcus strain MIT9313 much more than that of strain MED4, reflected both in the number of different types of interactions and in the magnitude of the effect of co-culture on various culture parameters. Enhancing interactions, where the presence of heterotrophic bacteria caused Prochlorococcus to grow faster and reach a higher final culture chlorophyll fluorescence, were much more common than antagonistic ones, and for a selected number of cases were shown to be mediated by diffusible compounds. In contrast, for one case at least, temporary inhibition of Prochlorococcus MIT9313 appeared to require close cellular proximity. Bacterial strains whose 16S gene sequences differed by 1–2% tended to have similar effects on MIT9313, suggesting that the patterns of inhibition and enhancement in co-culture observed here are due to phylogenetically cohesive traits of these heterotrophs.
PMCID: PMC3146288  PMID: 21326334
heterotrophic bacteria; interactions; phylogeny; Prochlorococcus
5.  ProPortal: a resource for integrated systems biology of Prochlorococcus and its phage 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(D1):D632-D640.
ProPortal ( is a database containing genomic, metagenomic, transcriptomic and field data for the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus. Our goal is to provide a source of cross-referenced data across multiple scales of biological organization—from the genome to the ecosystem—embracing the full diversity of ecotypic variation within this microbial taxon, its sister group, Synechococcus and phage that infect them. The site currently contains the genomes of 13 Prochlorococcus strains, 11 Synechococcus strains and 28 cyanophage strains that infect one or both groups. Cyanobacterial and cyanophage genes are clustered into orthologous groups that can be accessed by keyword search or through a genome browser. Users can also identify orthologous gene clusters shared by cyanobacterial and cyanophage genomes. Gene expression data for Prochlorococcus ecotypes MED4 and MIT9313 allow users to identify genes that are up or downregulated in response to environmental stressors. In addition, the transcriptome in synchronized cells grown on a 24-h light–dark cycle reveals the choreography of gene expression in cells in a ‘natural’ state. Metagenomic sequences from the Global Ocean Survey from Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus and phage genomes are archived so users can examine the differences between populations from diverse habitats. Finally, an example of cyanobacterial population data from the field is included.
PMCID: PMC3245167  PMID: 22102570
6.  Structural Changes in a Marine Podovirus Associated with Release of its Genome into Prochlorococcus 
Podovirus P-SSP7 infects Prochlorococcus marinus, the most abundant oceanic photosynthetic microorganism. Single particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) yields icosahedral and asymmetrical structures of infectious P-SSP7 with 4.6 Å and 9 Å resolution, respectively. The asymmetric reconstruction reveals how symmetry mismatches are accommodated among 5 of the gene products at the portal vertex. Reconstructions of infectious and empty particles show a conformational change of the “valve” density in the nozzle, an orientation difference in the tail fibers, a disordering of the C-terminus of the portal protein, and disappearance of the core proteins. In addition, cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) of P-SSP7 infecting Prochlorococcus demonstrated the same tail fiber conformation as in empty particles. Our observations suggest a mechanism whereby, upon binding to the host cell, the tail fibers induce a cascade of structural alterations of the portal vertex complex that triggers DNA release.
PMCID: PMC2924429  PMID: 20543830
7.  Unlocking Short Read Sequencing for Metagenomics 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11840.
Different high-throughput nucleic acid sequencing platforms are currently available but a trade-off currently exists between the cost and number of reads that can be generated versus the read length that can be achieved.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We describe an experimental and computational pipeline yielding millions of reads that can exceed 200 bp with quality scores approaching that of traditional Sanger sequencing. The method combines an automatable gel-less library construction step with paired-end sequencing on a short-read instrument. With appropriately sized library inserts, mate-pair sequences can overlap, and we describe the SHERA software package that joins them to form a longer composite read.
This strategy is broadly applicable to sequencing applications that benefit from low-cost high-throughput sequencing, but require longer read lengths. We demonstrate that our approach enables metagenomic analyses using the Illumina Genome Analyzer, with low error rates, and at a fraction of the cost of pyrosequencing.
PMCID: PMC2911387  PMID: 20676378
8.  Short RNA half-lives in the slow-growing marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus 
Genome Biology  2010;11(5):R54.
RNA turnover plays an important role in the gene regulation of microorganisms and influences their speed of acclimation to environmental changes. We investigated whole-genome RNA stability of Prochlorococcus, a relatively slow-growing marine cyanobacterium doubling approximately once a day, which is extremely abundant in the oceans.
Using a combination of microarrays, quantitative RT-PCR and a new fitting method for determining RNA decay rates, we found a median half-life of 2.4 minutes and a median decay rate of 2.6 minutes for expressed genes - twofold faster than that reported for any organism. The shortest transcript half-life (33 seconds) was for a gene of unknown function, while some of the longest (approximately 18 minutes) were for genes with high transcript levels. Genes organized in operons displayed intriguing mRNA decay patterns, such as increased stability, and delayed onset of decay with greater distance from the transcriptional start site. The same phenomenon was observed on a single probe resolution for genes greater than 2 kb.
We hypothesize that the fast turnover relative to the slow generation time in Prochlorococcus may enable a swift response to environmental changes through rapid recycling of nucleotides, which could be advantageous in nutrient poor oceans. Our growing understanding of RNA half-lives will help us interpret the growing bank of metatranscriptomic studies of wild populations of Prochlorococcus. The surprisingly complex decay patterns of large transcripts reported here, and the method developed to describe them, will open new avenues for the investigation and understanding of RNA decay for all organisms.
PMCID: PMC2897979  PMID: 20482874
9.  Modeling Selective Pressures on Phytoplankton in the Global Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9569.
Our view of marine microbes is transforming, as culture-independent methods facilitate rapid characterization of microbial diversity. It is difficult to assimilate this information into our understanding of marine microbe ecology and evolution, because their distributions, traits, and genomes are shaped by forces that are complex and dynamic. Here we incorporate diverse forces—physical, biogeochemical, ecological, and mutational—into a global ocean model to study selective pressures on a simple trait in a widely distributed lineage of picophytoplankton: the nitrogen use abilities of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus cyanobacteria. Some Prochlorococcus ecotypes have lost the ability to use nitrate, whereas their close relatives, marine Synechococcus, typically retain it. We impose mutations for the loss of nitrogen use abilities in modeled picophytoplankton, and ask: in which parts of the ocean are mutants most disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate, and in which parts are they least disadvantaged? Our model predicts that this selective disadvantage is smallest for picophytoplankton that live in tropical regions where Prochlorococcus are abundant in the real ocean. Conversely, the selective disadvantage of losing the ability to use nitrate is larger for modeled picophytoplankton that live at higher latitudes, where Synechococcus are abundant. In regions where we expect Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations to cycle seasonally in the real ocean, we find that model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Prochlorococcus are less disadvantaged by losing the ability to use nitrate than model ecotypes with seasonal population dynamics similar to Synechococcus. The model predictions for the selective advantage associated with nitrate use are broadly consistent with the distribution of this ability among marine picocyanobacteria, and at finer scales, can provide insights into interactions between temporally varying ocean processes and selective pressures that may be difficult or impossible to study by other means. More generally, and perhaps more importantly, this study introduces an approach for testing hypotheses about the processes that underlie genetic variation among marine microbes, embedded in the dynamic physical, chemical, and biological forces that generate and shape this diversity.
PMCID: PMC2835739  PMID: 20224766
10.  Whole Genome Amplification and De novo Assembly of Single Bacterial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e6864.
Single-cell genome sequencing has the potential to allow the in-depth exploration of the vast genetic diversity found in uncultured microbes. We used the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus as a model system for addressing important challenges facing high-throughput whole genome amplification (WGA) and complete genome sequencing of individual cells.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We describe a pipeline that enables single-cell WGA on hundreds of cells at a time while virtually eliminating non-target DNA from the reactions. We further developed a post-amplification normalization procedure that mitigates extreme variations in sequencing coverage associated with multiple displacement amplification (MDA), and demonstrated that the procedure increased sequencing efficiency and facilitated genome assembly. We report genome recovery as high as 99.6% with reference-guided assembly, and 95% with de novo assembly starting from a single cell. We also analyzed the impact of chimera formation during MDA on de novo assembly, and discuss strategies to minimize the presence of incorrectly joined regions in contigs.
The methods describe in this paper will be useful for sequencing genomes of individual cells from a variety of samples.
PMCID: PMC2731171  PMID: 19724646
11.  Use of stable isotope-labelled cells to identify active grazers of picocyanobacteria in ocean surface waters 
Environmental Microbiology  2009;11(2):512-525.
Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the two most abundant marine cyanobacteria. They represent a significant fraction of the total primary production of the world oceans and comprise a major fraction of the prey biomass available to phagotrophic protists. Despite relatively rapid growth rates, picocyanobacterial cell densities in open-ocean surface waters remain fairly constant, implying steady mortality due to viral infection and consumption by predators. There have been several studies on grazing by specific protists on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in culture, and of cell loss rates due to overall grazing in the field. However, the specific sources of mortality of these primary producers in the wild remain unknown. Here, we use a modification of the RNA stable isotope probing technique (RNA-SIP), which involves adding labelled cells to natural seawater, to identify active predators that are specifically consuming Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus in the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Four major groups were identified as having their 18S rRNA highly labelled: Prymnesiophyceae (Haptophyta), Dictyochophyceae (Stramenopiles), Bolidomonas (Stramenopiles) and Dinoflagellata (Alveolata). For the first three of these, the closest relative of the sequences identified was a photosynthetic organism, indicating the presence of mixotrophs among picocyanobacterial predators. We conclude that the use of RNA-SIP is a useful method to identity specific predators for picocyanobacteria in situ, and that the method could possibly be used to identify other bacterial predators important in the microbial food-web.
PMCID: PMC2702499  PMID: 19196281
12.  Portal protein diversity and phage ecology 
Environmental Microbiology  2008;10(10):2810-2823.
Oceanic phages are critical components of the global ecosystem, where they play a role in microbial mortality and evolution. Our understanding of phage diversity is greatly limited by the lack of useful genetic diversity measures. Previous studies, focusing on myophages that infect the marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus, have used the coliphage T4 portal-protein-encoding homologue, gene 20 (g20), as a diversity marker. These studies revealed 10 sequence clusters, 9 oceanic and 1 freshwater, where only 3 contained cultured representatives. We sequenced g20 from 38 marine myophages isolated using a diversity of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus hosts to see if any would fall into the clusters that lacked cultured representatives. On the contrary, all fell into the three clusters that already contained sequences from cultured phages. Further, there was no obvious relationship between host of isolation, or host range, and g20 sequence similarity. We next expanded our analyses to all available g20 sequences (769 sequences), which include PCR amplicons from wild uncultured phages, non-PCR amplified sequences identified in the Global Ocean Survey (GOS) metagenomic database, as well as sequences from cultured phages, to evaluate the relationship between g20 sequence clusters and habitat features from which the phage sequences were isolated. Even in this meta-data set, very few sequences fell into the sequence clusters without cultured representatives, suggesting that the latter are very rare, or sequencing artefacts. In contrast, sequences most similar to the culture-containing clusters, the freshwater cluster and two novel clusters, were more highly represented, with one particular culture-containing cluster representing the dominant g20 genotype in the unamplified GOS sequence data. Finally, while some g20 sequences were non-randomly distributed with respect to habitat, there were always numerous exceptions to general patterns, indicating that phage portal proteins are not good predictors of a phage's host or the habitat in which a particular phage may thrive.
PMCID: PMC2657995  PMID: 18673386
13.  Correction: The Challenge of Regulation in a Minimal Photoautotroph: Non-Coding RNAs in Prochlorococcus 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(11):10.1371/annotation/411b74ae-c4ce-43c9-bdd2-60c2bf60e672.
PMCID: PMC2599920
14.  Modeling the Fitness Consequences of a Cyanophage-Encoded Photosynthesis Gene 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3550.
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.
PMCID: PMC2570332  PMID: 18958282
15.  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.
PMCID: PMC2518516  PMID: 18769676
16.  Genome-Wide Analysis of Light Sensing in Prochlorococcus▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(22):7796-7806.
Prochlorococcus MED4 has, with a total of only 1,716 annotated protein-coding genes, the most compact genome of a free-living photoautotroph. Although light quality and quantity play an important role in regulating the growth rate of this organism in its natural habitat, the majority of known light-sensing proteins are absent from its genome. To explore the potential for light sensing in this phototroph, we measured its global gene expression pattern in response to different light qualities and quantities by using high-density Affymetrix microarrays. Though seven different conditions were tested, only blue light elicited a strong response. In addition, hierarchical clustering revealed that the responses to high white light and blue light were very similar and different from that of the lower-intensity white light, suggesting that the actual sensing of high light is mediated via a blue-light receptor. Bacterial cryptochromes seem to be good candidates for the blue-light sensors. The existence of a signaling pathway for the redox state of the photosynthetic electron transport chain was suggested by the presence of genes that responded similarly to red and blue light as well as genes that responded to the addition of DCMU [3-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-1,1-N-N′-dimethylurea], a specific inhibitor of photosystem II-mediated electron transport.
PMCID: PMC1636322  PMID: 16980454
17.  Global gene expression of Prochlorococcus ecotypes in response to changes in nitrogen availability 
Nitrogen (N) often limits biological productivity in the oceanic gyres where Prochlorococcus is the most abundant photosynthetic organism. The Prochlorococcus community is composed of strains, such as MED4 and MIT9313, that have different N utilization capabilities and that belong to ecotypes with different depth distributions. An interstrain comparison of how Prochlorococcus responds to changes in ambient nitrogen is thus central to understanding its ecology. We quantified changes in MED4 and MIT9313 global mRNA expression, chlorophyll fluorescence, and photosystem II photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm) along a time series of increasing N starvation. In addition, the global expression of both strains growing in ammonium-replete medium was compared to expression during growth on alternative N sources. There were interstrain similarities in N regulation such as the activation of a putative NtcA regulon during N stress. There were also important differences between the strains such as in the expression patterns of carbon metabolism genes, suggesting that the two strains integrate N and C metabolism in fundamentally different ways.
PMCID: PMC1682016  PMID: 17016519
cyanobacteria; interstrain; nitrogen; Prochlorococcus; transcription
18.  Prevalence and Evolution of Core Photosystem II Genes in Marine Cyanobacterial Viruses and Their Hosts 
PLoS Biology  2006;4(8):e234.
Cyanophages (cyanobacterial viruses) are important agents of horizontal gene transfer among marine cyanobacteria, the numerically dominant photosynthetic organisms in the oceans. Some cyanophage genomes carry and express host-like photosynthesis genes, presumably to augment the host photosynthetic machinery during infection. To study the prevalence and evolutionary dynamics of this phenomenon, 33 cultured cyanophages of known family and host range and viral DNA from field samples were screened for the presence of two core photosystem reaction center genes, psbA and psbD. Combining this expanded dataset with published data for nine other cyanophages, we found that 88% of the phage genomes contain psbA, and 50% contain both psbA and psbD. The psbA gene was found in all myoviruses and Prochlorococcus podoviruses, but could not be amplified from Prochlorococcus siphoviruses or Synechococcus podoviruses. Nearly all of the phages that encoded both psbA and psbD had broad host ranges. We speculate that the presence or absence of psbA in a phage genome may be determined by the length of the latent period of infection. Whether it also carries psbD may reflect constraints on coupling of viral- and host-encoded PsbA–PsbD in the photosynthetic reaction center across divergent hosts. Phylogenetic clustering patterns of these genes from cultured phages suggest that whole genes have been transferred from host to phage in a discrete number of events over the course of evolution (four for psbA, and two for psbD), followed by horizontal and vertical transfer between cyanophages. Clustering patterns of psbA and psbD from Synechococcus cells were inconsistent with other molecular phylogenetic markers, suggesting genetic exchanges involving Synechococcus lineages. Signatures of intragenic recombination, detected within the cyanophage gene pool as well as between hosts and phages in both directions, support this hypothesis. The analysis of cyanophage psbA and psbD genes from field populations revealed significant sequence diversity, much of which is represented in our cultured isolates. Collectively, these findings show that photosynthesis genes are common in cyanophages and that significant genetic exchanges occur from host to phage, phage to host, and within the phage gene pool. This generates genetic diversity among the phage, which serves as a reservoir for their hosts, and in turn influences photosystem evolution.
Analysis of 33 cultured cyanophages of known family and host range, as well as viral DNA from field samples, reveals the prevalence of photosynthesis genes in cyanophages and demonstrates significant genetic exchanges between host and phage.
PMCID: PMC1484495  PMID: 16802857
19.  Prochlorococcus Ecotype Abundances in the North Atlantic Ocean As Revealed by an Improved Quantitative PCR Method†  
The cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus numerically dominates the photosynthetic community in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world's oceans. Six evolutionary lineages of Prochlorococcus have been described, and their distinctive physiologies and genomes indicate that these lineages are “ecotypes” and should have different oceanic distributions. Two methods recently developed to quantify these ecotypes in the field, probe hybridization and quantitative PCR (QPCR), have shown that this is indeed the case. To facilitate a global investigation of these ecotypes, we modified our QPCR protocol to significantly increase its speed, sensitivity, and accessibility and validated the method in the western and eastern North Atlantic Ocean. We showed that all six ecotypes had distinct distributions that varied with depth and location, and, with the exception of the deeper waters at the western North Atlantic site, the total Prochlorococcus counts determined by QPCR matched the total counts measured by flow cytometry. Clone library analyses of the deeper western North Atlantic waters revealed ecotypes that are not represented in the culture collections with which the QPCR primers were designed, explaining this discrepancy. Finally, similar patterns of relative ecotype abundance were obtained in QPCR and probe hybridization analyses of the same field samples, which could allow comparisons between studies.
PMCID: PMC1352191  PMID: 16391112
20.  Cross-scale ecological dynamics and microbial size spectra in marine ecosystems. 
Evaluating the component features of 'scaling' planktonic size spectra, commonly observed in marine ecosystems, is crucial for understanding the ecological and evolutionary processes from which they emerge. Here, we develop a theoretical framework that describes such spectra in terms of the size distributions of individual species, and test it against actual datasets of microbial size spectra from the Atlantic Ocean. We describe characteristics of size probability distributions of component species that are sufficient to support the observational evidence and infer that, when a power law describes the community size spectrum (thus suggesting critical self-organization of microbial ecosystem structure and function), a related power law links the total number of individuals of a given species to its mean size.
PMCID: PMC1691128  PMID: 12396505
21.  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.
PMCID: PMC123739  PMID: 11872466
22.  In Situ Hybridization of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus (Marine Cyanobacteria) spp. with rRNA-Targeted Peptide Nucleic Acid Probes 
A simple method for whole-cell hybridization using fluorescently labeled rRNA-targeted peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probes was developed for use in marine cyanobacterial picoplankton. In contrast to established protocols, this method is capable of detecting rRNA in Prochlorococcus, the most abundant unicellular marine cyanobacterium. Because the method avoids the use of alcohol fixation, the chlorophyll content of Prochlorococcus cells is preserved, facilitating the identification of these cells in natural samples. PNA probe-conferred fluorescence was measured flow cytometrically and was always significantly higher than that of the negative control probe, with positive/negative ratio varying between 4 and 10, depending on strain and culture growth conditions. Prochlorococcus cells from open ocean samples were detectable with this method. RNase treatment reduced probe-conferred fluorescence to background levels, demonstrating that this signal was in fact related to the presence of rRNA. In another marine cyanobacterium, Synechococcus, in which both PNA and oligonucleotide probes can be used in whole-cell hybridizations, the magnitude of fluorescence from the former was fivefold higher than that from the latter, although the positive/negative ratio was comparable for both probes. In Synechococcus cells growing at a range of growth rates (and thus having different rRNA concentrations per cell), the PNA- and oligonucleotide-derived signals were highly correlated (r = 0.99). The chemical nature of PNA, the sensitivity of PNA-RNA binding to single-base-pair mismatches, and the preservation of cellular integrity by this method suggest that it may be useful for phylogenetic probing of whole cells in the natural environment.
PMCID: PMC91819  PMID: 10618237
23.  Three Prochlorococcus Cyanophage Genomes: Signature Features and Ecological Interpretations 
PLoS Biology  2005;3(5):e144.
The oceanic cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus are globally important, ecologically diverse primary producers. It is thought that their viruses (phages) mediate population sizes and affect the evolutionary trajectories of their hosts. Here we present an analysis of genomes from three Prochlorococcus phages: a podovirus and two myoviruses. The morphology, overall genome features, and gene content of these phages suggest that they are quite similar to T7-like (P-SSP7) and T4-like (P-SSM2 and P-SSM4) phages. Using the existing phage taxonomic framework as a guideline, we examined genome sequences to establish “core” genes for each phage group. We found the podovirus contained 15 of 26 core T7-like genes and the two myoviruses contained 43 and 42 of 75 core T4-like genes. In addition to these core genes, each genome contains a significant number of “cyanobacterial” genes, i.e., genes with significant best BLAST hits to genes found in cyanobacteria. Some of these, we speculate, represent “signature” cyanophage genes. For example, all three phage genomes contain photosynthetic genes (psbA, hliP) that are thought to help maintain host photosynthetic activity during infection, as well as an aldolase family gene (talC) that could facilitate alternative routes of carbon metabolism during infection. The podovirus genome also contains an integrase gene (int) and other features that suggest it is capable of integrating into its host. If indeed it is, this would be unprecedented among cultured T7-like phages or marine cyanophages and would have significant evolutionary and ecological implications for phage and host. Further, both myoviruses contain phosphate-inducible genes (phoH and pstS) that are likely to be important for phage and host responses to phosphate stress, a commonly limiting nutrient in marine systems. Thus, these marine cyanophages appear to be variations of two well-known phages—T7 and T4—but contain genes that, if functional, reflect adaptations for infection of photosynthetic hosts in low-nutrient oceanic environments.
An analysis of the genome sequences of three phages capable of infecting marine unicellular cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus reveals they are genetically complex with intriguing adaptations related to their oceanic environment
PMCID: PMC1079782  PMID: 15828858
24.  The genome and structural proteome of an ocean siphovirus: a new window into the cyanobacterial ‘mobilome’ 
Environmental Microbiology  2009;11(11):2935-2951.
Prochlorococcus, an abundant phototroph in the oceans, are infected by members of three families of viruses: myo-, podo- and siphoviruses. Genomes of myo- and podoviruses isolated on Prochlorococcus contain DNA replication machinery and virion structural genes homologous to those from coliphages T4 and T7 respectively. They also contain a suite of genes of cyanobacterial origin, most notably photosynthesis genes, which are expressed during infection and appear integral to the evolutionary trajectory of both host and phage. Here we present the first genome of a cyanobacterial siphovirus, P-SS2, which was isolated from Atlantic slope waters using a Prochlorococcus host (MIT9313). The P-SS2 genome is larger than, and considerably divergent from, previously sequenced siphoviruses. It appears most closely related to lambdoid siphoviruses, with which it shares 13 functional homologues. The ∼108 kb P-SS2 genome encodes 131 predicted proteins and notably lacks photosynthesis genes which have consistently been found in other marine cyanophage, but does contain 14 other cyanobacterial homologues. While only six structural proteins were identified from the genome sequence, 35 proteins were detected experimentally; these mapped onto capsid and tail structural modules in the genome. P-SS2 is potentially capable of integration into its host as inferred from bioinformatically identified genetic machinery int, bet, exo and a 53 bp attachment site. The host attachment site appears to be a genomic island that is tied to insertion sequence (IS) activity that could facilitate mobility of a gene involved in the nitrogen-stress response. The homologous region and a secondary IS-element hot-spot in Synechococcus RS9917 are further evidence of IS-mediated genome evolution coincident with a probable relic prophage integration event. This siphovirus genome provides a glimpse into the biology of a deep-photic zone phage as well as the ocean cyanobacterial prophage and IS element ‘mobilome’.
PMCID: PMC2784084  PMID: 19840100
25.  UV hyper-resistance in Prochlorococcus MED4 results from a single base pair deletion just upstream of an operon encoding nudix hydrolase and photolyase 
Environmental Microbiology  2010;12(7):1978-1988.
Exposure to solar radiation can cause mortality in natural communities of pico-phytoplankton, both at the surface and to a depth of at least 30 m. DNA damage is a significant cause of death, mainly due to cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer formation, which can be lethal if not repaired. While developing a UV mutagenesis protocol for the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, we isolated a UV-hyper-resistant variant of high light-adapted strain MED4. The hyper-resistant strain was constitutively upregulated for expression of the mutT-phrB operon, encoding nudix hydrolase and photolyase, both of which are involved in repair of DNA damage that can be caused by UV light. Photolyase (PhrB) breaks pyrimidine dimers typically caused by UV exposure, using energy from visible light in the process known as photoreactivation. Nudix hydrolase (MutT) hydrolyses 8-oxo-dGTP, an aberrant form of GTP that results from oxidizing conditions, including UV radiation, thus impeding mispairing and mutagenesis by preventing incorporation of the aberrant form into DNA. These processes are error-free, in contrast to error-prone SOS dark repair systems that are widespread in bacteria. The UV-hyper-resistant strain contained only a single mutation: a 1 bp deletion in the intergenic region directly upstream of the mutT-phrB operon. Two subsequent enrichments for MED4 UV-hyper-resistant strains from MED4 wild-type cultures gave rise to strains containing this same 1 bp deletion, affirming its connection to the hyper-resistant phenotype. These results have implications for Prochlorococcus DNA repair mechanisms, genome stability and possibly lysogeny.
PMCID: PMC2955971  PMID: 20345942

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