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1.  Finished Genome Sequence of the Unicellular Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. Strain PCC 6714 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(4):e00757-14.
Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6714 is a unicellular cyanobacterium closely related to the popular model organism Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803. A combination of PacBio SMRT and Illumina GAIIx data results in a highly accurate finished genome sequence that provides a reliable resource for further comparative analyses.
PMCID: PMC4118070  PMID: 25081267
2.  Adaptation and modification of three CRISPR loci in two closely related cyanobacteria 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):852-864.
An RNA-based screen was performed to reveal a possible evolutionary scenario for the CRISPR-Cas systems in two cyanobacterial model strains. Following the analysis of a draft genome sequence of Synechocystis sp PCC6714, three different CRISPR-Cas systems were characterized that have different degrees of relatedness to another three CRISPR-Cas systems in Synechocystis sp PCC6803. A subtype III-B system was identified that is extremely conserved between both strains. Strong signals in northern hybridizations and the presence of different spacers (but identical repeats) indicated this system to be active, despite the absence of a known endonuclease candidate gene involved in the maturation of its crRNAs in the two strains. The other two systems were found to differ significantly from each other, with different sets of repeat-spacer arrays and different Cas genes. In view of the otherwise very close relatedness of the two analyzed strains, this is suggestive of an unknown mechanism involved in the replacement of CRISPR-Cas cassettes as a whole. Further RNA analyses revealed the accumulation of crRNAs to be impacted by environmental conditions critical for photoautotropic growth. All six systems are associated with a gene for a possible transcriptional repressor. Indeed, we identified one of these genes, sll7009, as encoding a negative regulator specific for the CRISPR1 subtype I-D system in Synechocystis sp PCC6803.
PMCID: PMC3737342  PMID: 23535141
comparative genomics; CRISPR; cyanobacteria; defense mechanisms; crRNA maturation; transcriptional regulator
3.  Draft Genome Sequence of the Filamentous Cyanobacterium Leptolyngbya sp. Strain Heron Island J, Exhibiting Chromatic Acclimation 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(1):e01166-13.
Leptolyngbya sp. strain Heron Island is a cyanobacterium exhibiting chromatic acclimation. However, this strain has strong interactions with other bacteria, making it impossible to obtain axenic cultures for sequencing. A protocol involving an analysis of tetranucleotide frequencies, G+C content, and BLAST searches has been described for separating the cyanobacterial scaffolds from those of its cooccurring bacteria.
PMCID: PMC3916487  PMID: 24503993
4.  Alkane Biosynthesis Genes in Cyanobacteria and Their Transcriptional Organization 
In cyanobacteria, alkanes are synthesized from a fatty acyl-ACP by two enzymes, acyl–acyl carrier protein reductase and aldehyde deformylating oxygenase. Despite the great interest in the exploitation for biofuel production, nothing is known about the transcriptional organization of their genes or the physiological function of alkane synthesis. The comparison of 115 microarray datasets indicates the relatively constitutive expression of aar and ado genes. The analysis of 181 available genomes showed that in 90% of the genomes both genes are present, likely indicating their physiological relevance. In 61% of them they cluster together with genes encoding acetyl-CoA carboxyl transferase and a short-chain dehydrogenase, strengthening the link to fatty acid metabolism and in 76% of the genomes they are located in tandem, suggesting constraints on the gene arrangement. However, contrary to the expectations for an operon, we found in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 specific promoters for the two genes, sll0208 (ado) and sll0209 (aar), which give rise to monocistronic transcripts. Moreover, the upstream located ado gene is driven by a proximal as well as a second, distal, promoter, from which a third transcript, the ~160 nt sRNA SyR9 is transcribed. Thus, the transcriptional organization of the alkane biosynthesis genes in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 is of substantial complexity. We verified all three promoters to function independently from each other and show a similar promoter arrangement also in the more distant Nodularia spumigena, Trichodesmium erythraeum, Anabaena sp. PCC 7120, Prochlorococcus MIT9313, and MED4. The presence of separate regulatory elements and the dominance of monocistronic mRNAs suggest the possible autonomous regulation of ado and aar. The complex transcriptional organization of the alkane synthesis gene cluster has possible metabolic implications and should be considered when manipulating the expression of these genes in cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC4094844  PMID: 25022427
alkane biosynthesis; start sites of transcription; cyanobacteria; operon; promoter; sRNA
5.  Complete genome determination and analysis of Acholeplasma oculi strain 19L, highlighting the loss of basic genetic features in the Acholeplasmataceae 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):931.
Acholeplasma oculi belongs to the Acholeplasmataceae family, comprising the genera Acholeplasma and ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma’. Acholeplasmas are ubiquitous saprophytic bacteria. Several isolates are derived from plants or animals, whereas phytoplasmas are characterised as intracellular parasitic pathogens of plant phloem and depend on insect vectors for their spread. The complete genome sequences for eight strains of this family have been resolved so far, all of which were determined depending on clone-based sequencing.
The A. oculi strain 19L chromosome was sequenced using two independent approaches. The first approach comprised sequencing by synthesis (Illumina) in combination with Sanger sequencing, while single molecule real time sequencing (PacBio) was used in the second. The genome was determined to be 1,587,120 bp in size. Sequencing by synthesis resulted in six large genome fragments, while the single molecule real time sequencing approach yielded one circular chromosome sequence. High-quality sequences were obtained by both strategies differing in six positions, which are interpreted as reliable variations present in the culture population. Our genome analysis revealed 1,471 protein-coding genes and highlighted the absence of the F1FO-type Na+ ATPase system and GroEL/ES chaperone. Comparison of the four available Acholeplasma sequences revealed a core-genome encoding 703 proteins and a pan-genome of 2,867 proteins.
The application of two state-of-the-art sequencing technologies highlights the potential of single molecule real time sequencing for complete genome determination. Comparative genome analyses revealed that the process of losing particular basic genetic features during genome reduction occurs in both genera, as indicated for several phytoplasma strains and at least A. oculi. The loss of the F1FO-type Na+ ATPase system may separate Acholeplasmataceae from other Mollicutes, while the loss of those genes encoding the chaperone GroEL/ES is not a rare exception in this bacterial class.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-931) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4221730  PMID: 25344468
6.  Daily Expression Pattern of Protein-Encoding Genes and Small Noncoding RNAs in Synechocystis sp. Strain PCC 6803 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2014;80(17):5195-5206.
Many organisms harbor circadian clocks with periods close to 24 h. These cellular clocks allow organisms to anticipate the environmental cycles of day and night by synchronizing circadian rhythms with the rising and setting of the sun. These rhythms originate from the oscillator components of circadian clocks and control global gene expression and various cellular processes. The oscillator of photosynthetic cyanobacteria is composed of three proteins, KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC, linked to a complex regulatory network. Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 possesses the standard cyanobacterial kaiABC gene cluster plus multiple kaiB and kaiC gene copies and antisense RNAs for almost every kai transcript. However, there is no clear evidence of circadian rhythms in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 under various experimental conditions. It is also still unknown if and to what extent the multiple kai gene copies and kai antisense RNAs affect circadian timing. Moreover, a large number of small noncoding RNAs whose accumulation dynamics over time have not yet been monitored are known for Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803. Here we performed a 48-h time series transcriptome analysis of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, taking into account periodic light-dark phases, continuous light, and continuous darkness. We found that expression of functionally related genes occurred in different phases of day and night. Moreover, we found day-peaking and night-peaking transcripts among the small RNAs; in particular, the amounts of kai antisense RNAs correlated or anticorrelated with those of their respective kai target mRNAs, pointing toward the regulatory relevance of these antisense RNAs. Surprisingly, we observed that the amounts of 16S and 23S rRNAs in this cyanobacterium fluctuated in light-dark periods, showing maximum accumulation in the dark phase. Importantly, the amounts of all transcripts, including small noncoding RNAs, did not show any rhythm under continuous light or darkness, indicating the absence of circadian rhythms in Synechocystis.
PMCID: PMC4136122  PMID: 24928881
7.  The primary transcriptome of the marine diazotroph Trichodesmium erythraeum IMS101 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:6187.
Blooms of the dinitrogen-fixing marine cyanobacterium Trichodesmium considerably contribute to new nitrogen inputs into tropical oceans. Intriguingly, only 60% of the Trichodesmium erythraeum IMS101 genome sequence codes for protein, compared with ~85% in other sequenced cyanobacterial genomes. The extensive non-coding genome fraction suggests space for an unusually high number of unidentified, potentially regulatory non-protein-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). To identify the transcribed fraction of the genome, here we present a genome-wide map of transcriptional start sites (TSS) at single nucleotide resolution, revealing the activity of 6,080 promoters. We demonstrate that T. erythraeum has the highest number of actively splicing group II introns and the highest percentage of TSS yielding ncRNAs of any bacterium examined to date. We identified a highly transcribed retroelement that serves as template repeat for the targeted mutation of at least 12 different genes by mutagenic homing. Our findings explain the non-coding portion of the T. erythraeum genome by the transcription of an unusually high number of non-coding transcripts in addition to the known high incidence of transposable elements. We conclude that riboregulation and RNA maturation-dependent processes constitute a major part of the Trichodesmium regulatory apparatus.
PMCID: PMC4143802  PMID: 25155278
8.  The diversity of small non-coding RNAs in the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):698.
Marine diatoms constitute a major component of eukaryotic phytoplankton and stand at the crossroads of several evolutionary lineages. These microalgae possess peculiar genomic features and novel combinations of genes acquired from bacterial, animal and plant ancestors. Furthermore, they display both DNA methylation and gene silencing activities. Yet, the biogenesis and regulatory function of small RNAs (sRNAs) remain ill defined in diatoms.
Here we report the first comprehensive characterization of the sRNA landscape and its correlation with genomic and epigenomic information in Phaeodactylum tricornutum. The majority of sRNAs is 25 to 30 nt-long and maps to repetitive and silenced Transposable Elements marked by DNA methylation. A subset of this population also targets DNA methylated protein-coding genes, suggesting that gene body methylation might be sRNA-driven in diatoms. Remarkably, 25-30 nt sRNAs display a well-defined and unprecedented 180 nt-long periodic distribution at several highly methylated regions that awaits characterization. While canonical miRNAs are not detectable, other 21-25 nt sRNAs of unknown origin are highly expressed. Besides, non-coding RNAs with well-described function, namely tRNAs and U2 snRNA, constitute a major source of 21-25 nt sRNAs and likely play important roles under stressful environmental conditions.
P. tricornutum has evolved diversified sRNA pathways, likely implicated in the regulation of largely still uncharacterized genetic and epigenetic processes. These results uncover an unexpected complexity of diatom sRNA population and previously unappreciated features, providing new insights into the diversification of sRNA-based processes in eukaryotes.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-698) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4247016  PMID: 25142710
Diatoms; Phaeodactylum tricornutum; Small RNAs; tRNAs; U2 snRNA; Transposable Elements; DNA methylation; Periodic small RNAs distribution
9.  Comparative Analysis of the Primary Transcriptome of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 
RNA-seq and especially differential RNA-seq-type transcriptomic analyses (dRNA-seq) are powerful analytical tools, as they not only provide insights into gene expression changes but also provide detailed information about all promoters active at a given moment, effectively giving a deep insight into the transcriptional landscape. Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 (Synechocystis 6803) is a unicellular model cyanobacterium that is widely used in research fields from ecology, photophysiology to systems biology, modelling and biotechnology. Here, we analysed the response of the Synechocystis 6803 primary transcriptome to different, environmentally relevant stimuli. We established genome-wide maps of the transcriptional start sites active under 10 different conditions relevant for photosynthetic growth and identified 4,091 transcriptional units, which provide information about operons, 5′ and 3′ untranslated regions (UTRs). Based on a unique expression factor, we describe regulons and relevant promoter sequences at single-nucleotide resolution. Finally, we report several sRNAs with an intriguing expression pattern and therefore likely function, specific for carbon depletion (CsiR1), nitrogen depletion (NsiR4), phosphate depletion (PsiR1), iron stress (IsaR1) or photosynthesis (PsrR1). This dataset is accompanied by comprehensive information providing extensive visualization and data access to allow an easy-to-use approach for the design of experiments, the incorporation into modelling studies of the regulatory system and for comparative analyses.
PMCID: PMC4195498  PMID: 24935866
comparative transcriptome analysis; cyanobacteria; regulation of gene expression; sRNA; transcriptional unit
10.  CopraRNA and IntaRNA: predicting small RNA targets, networks and interaction domains 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(Web Server issue):W119-W123.
CopraRNA (Comparative prediction algorithm for small RNA targets) is the most recent asset to the Freiburg RNA Tools webserver. It incorporates and extends the functionality of the existing tool IntaRNA (Interacting RNAs) in order to predict targets, interaction domains and consequently the regulatory networks of bacterial small RNA molecules. The CopraRNA prediction results are accompanied by extensive postprocessing methods such as functional enrichment analysis and visualization of interacting regions. Here, we introduce the functionality of the CopraRNA and IntaRNA webservers and give detailed explanations on their postprocessing functionalities. Both tools are freely accessible at
PMCID: PMC4086077  PMID: 24838564
11.  Transcriptomic response to prolonged ethanol production in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 
The production of biofuels in photosynthetic microalgae and cyanobacteria is a promising alternative to the generation of fuels from fossil resources. To be economically competitive, producer strains need to be established that synthesize the targeted product at high yield and over a long time. Engineering cyanobacteria into forced fuel producers should considerably interfere with overall cell homeostasis, which in turn might counteract productivity and sustainability of the process. Therefore, in-depth characterization of the cellular response upon long-term production is of high interest for the targeted improvement of a desired strain.
The transcriptome-wide response to continuous ethanol production was examined in Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 using high resolution microarrays. In two independent experiments, ethanol production rates of 0.0338% (v/v) ethanol d-1 and 0.0303% (v/v) ethanol d-1 were obtained over 18 consecutive days, measuring two sets of biological triplicates in fully automated photobioreactors. Ethanol production caused a significant (~40%) delay in biomass accumulation, the development of a bleaching phenotype and a down-regulation of light harvesting capacity. However, microarray analyses performed at day 4, 7, 11 and 18 of the experiment revealed only three mRNAs with a strongly modified accumulation level throughout the course of the experiment. In addition to the overexpressed adhA (slr1192) gene, this was an approximately 4 fold reduction in cpcB (sll1577) and 3 to 6 fold increase in rps8 (sll1809) mRNA levels. Much weaker modifications of expression level or modifications restricted to day 18 of the experiment were observed for genes involved in carbon assimilation (Ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase and Glutamate decarboxylase). Molecular analysis of the reduced cpcB levels revealed a post-transcriptional processing of the cpcBA operon mRNA leaving a truncated mRNA cpcA* likely not competent for translation. Moreover, western blots and zinc-enhanced bilin fluorescence blots confirmed a severe reduction in the amounts of both phycocyanin subunits, explaining the cause of the bleaching phenotype.
Changes in gene expression upon induction of long-term ethanol production in Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 are highly specific. In particular, we did not observe a comprehensive stress response as might have been expected.
PMCID: PMC3925133  PMID: 24502290
Biofuel; Cyanobacteria; Ethanol production; Synechocystis; Metabolic engineering; Synthetic biology; Transcription
12.  Comparative Genome Analysis of the Closely Related Synechocystis Strains PCC 6714 and PCC 6803 
Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 is the most popular cyanobacterial model for prokaryotic photosynthesis and for metabolic engineering to produce biofuels. Genomic and transcriptomic comparisons between closely related bacteria are powerful approaches to infer insights into their metabolic potentials and regulatory networks. To enable a comparative approach, we generated the draft genome sequence of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6714, a closely related strain of 6803 (16S rDNA identity 99.4%) that also is amenable to genetic manipulation. Both strains share 2838 protein-coding genes, leaving 845 unique genes in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 and 895 genes in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6714. The genetic differences include a prophage in the genome of strain 6714, a different composition of the pool of transposable elements, and a ∼40 kb genomic island encoding several glycosyltransferases and transport proteins. We verified several physiological differences that were predicted on the basis of the respective genome sequence. Strain 6714 exhibited a lower tolerance to Zn2+ ions, associated with the lack of a corresponding export system and a lowered potential of salt acclimation due to the absence of a transport system for the re-uptake of the compatible solute glucosylglycerol. These new data will support the detailed comparative analyses of this important cyanobacterial group than has been possible thus far. Genome information for Synechocystis sp. PCC 6714 has been deposited in Genbank (accession no AMZV01000000).
PMCID: PMC4060947  PMID: 24408876
comparative genomics; cyanophages; genome sequence; prophage; salt acclimation
13.  Non-coding RNAs in marine Synechococcus and their regulation under environmentally relevant stress conditions 
The ISME Journal  2012;6(8):1544-1557.
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.
PMCID: PMC3400404  PMID: 22258101
cyanobacteria; gene expression regulation; light stress; regulatory RNA
14.  Dinitrogen fixation in a unicellular chlorophyll d-containing cyanobacterium 
The ISME Journal  2012;6(7):1367-1377.
Marine cyanobacteria of the genus Acaryochloris are the only known organisms that use chlorophyll d as a photosynthetic pigment. However, based on chemical sediment analyses, chlorophyll d has been recognized to be widespread in oceanic and lacustrine environments. Therefore it is highly relevant to understand the genetic basis for different physiologies and possible niche adaptation in this genus. Here we show that unlike all other known isolates of Acaryochloris, the strain HICR111A, isolated from waters around Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, possesses a unique genomic region containing all the genes for the structural and enzymatically active proteins of nitrogen fixation and cofactor biosynthesis. Their phylogenetic analysis suggests a close relation to nitrogen fixation genes from certain other marine cyanobacteria. We show that nitrogen fixation in Acaryochloris sp. HICR111A is regulated in a light–dark-dependent fashion. We conclude that nitrogen fixation, one of the most complex physiological traits known in bacteria, might be transferred among oceanic microbes by horizontal gene transfer more often than anticipated so far. Our data show that the two powerful processes of oxygenic photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation co-occur in one and the same cell also in this branch of marine microbes and characterize Acaryochloris as a physiologically versatile inhabitant of an ecological niche, which is primarily driven by the absorption of far-red light.
PMCID: PMC3379635  PMID: 22237545
Acaryochloris; chlorophyll d; cyanobacteria; dinitrogen fixation; microbial diversity; nitrogenase
15.  Insights into the Physiology and Ecology of the Brackish-Water-Adapted Cyanobacterium Nodularia spumigena CCY9414 Based on a Genome-Transcriptome Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e60224.
Nodularia spumigena is a filamentous diazotrophic cyanobacterium that dominates the annual late summer cyanobacterial blooms in the Baltic Sea. But N. spumigena also is common in brackish water bodies worldwide, suggesting special adaptation allowing it to thrive at moderate salinities. A draft genome analysis of N. spumigena sp. CCY9414 yielded a single scaffold of 5,462,271 nucleotides in length on which genes for 5,294 proteins were annotated. A subsequent strand-specific transcriptome analysis identified more than 6,000 putative transcriptional start sites (TSS). Orphan TSSs located in intergenic regions led us to predict 764 non-coding RNAs, among them 70 copies of a possible retrotransposon and several potential RNA regulators, some of which are also present in other N2-fixing cyanobacteria. Approximately 4% of the total coding capacity is devoted to the production of secondary metabolites, among them the potent hepatotoxin nodularin, the linear spumigin and the cyclic nodulapeptin. The transcriptional complexity associated with genes involved in nitrogen fixation and heterocyst differentiation is considerably smaller compared to other Nostocales. In contrast, sophisticated systems exist for the uptake and assimilation of iron and phosphorus compounds, for the synthesis of compatible solutes, and for the formation of gas vesicles, required for the active control of buoyancy. Hence, the annotation and interpretation of this sequence provides a vast array of clues into the genomic underpinnings of the physiology of this cyanobacterium and indicates in particular a competitive edge of N. spumigena in nutrient-limited brackish water ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3610870  PMID: 23555932
16.  CRISPR-Cas Systems in the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 Exhibit Distinct Processing Pathways Involving at Least Two Cas6 and a Cmr2 Protein 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56470.
The CRISPR-Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats – CRISPR associated proteins) system provides adaptive immunity in archaea and bacteria. A hallmark of CRISPR-Cas is the involvement of short crRNAs that guide associated proteins in the destruction of invading DNA or RNA. We present three fundamentally distinct processing pathways in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 for a subtype I-D (CRISPR1), and two type III systems (CRISPR2 and CRISPR3), which are located together on the plasmid pSYSA. Using high-throughput transcriptome analyses and assays of transcript accumulation we found all CRISPR loci to be highly expressed, but the individual crRNAs had profoundly varying abundances despite single transcription start sites for each array. In a computational analysis, CRISPR3 spacers with stable secondary structures displayed a greater ratio of degradation products. These structures might interfere with the loading of the crRNAs into RNP complexes, explaining the varying abundancies. The maturation of CRISPR1 and CRISPR2 transcripts depends on at least two different Cas6 proteins. Mutation of gene sll7090, encoding a Cmr2 protein led to the disappearance of all CRISPR3-derived crRNAs, providing in vivo evidence for a function of Cmr2 in the maturation, regulation of expression, Cmr complex formation or stabilization of CRISPR3 transcripts. Finally, we optimized CRISPR repeat structure prediction and the results indicate that the spacer context can influence individual repeat structures.
PMCID: PMC3575380  PMID: 23441196
17.  Iron Deprivation in Synechocystis: Inference of Pathways, Non-coding RNAs, and Regulatory Elements from Comprehensive Expression Profiling 
G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics  2012;2(12):1475-1495.
Iron is an essential cofactor in many metabolic reactions. Mechanisms controlling iron homeostasis need to respond rapidly to changes in extracellular conditions, but they must also keep the concentration of intracellular iron under strict control to avoid the generation of damaging reactive oxygen species. Due to its role as a redox carrier in photosynthesis, the iron quota in cyanobacteria is about 10 times higher than in model enterobacteria. The molecular details of how such a high quota is regulated are obscure. Here we present experiments that shed light on the iron regulatory system in cyanobacteria. We measured time-resolved changes in gene expression after iron depletion in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 using a comprehensive microarray platform, monitoring both protein-coding and non-coding transcripts. In total, less than a fifth of all protein-coding genes were differentially expressed during the first 72 hr. Many of these proteins are associated with iron transport, photosynthesis, or ATP synthesis. Comparing our data with three previous studies, we identified a core set of 28 genes involved in iron stress response. Among them were genes important for assimilation of inorganic carbon, suggesting a link between the carbon and iron regulatory networks. Nine of the 28 genes have unknown functions and constitute key targets for further functional analysis. Statistical and clustering analyses identified 10 small RNAs, 62 antisense RNAs, four 5′UTRs, and seven intragenic elements as potential novel components of the iron regulatory network in Synechocystis. Hence, our genome-wide expression profiling indicates an unprecedented complexity in the iron regulatory network of cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC3516471  PMID: 23275872
iron homeostasis; expression profiling; regulation; non-coding RNA; cyanobacteria
18.  Microevolution in Cyanobacteria: Re-sequencing a Motile Substrain of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 
Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 is a widely used model cyanobacterium for studying photosynthesis, phototaxis, the production of biofuels and many other aspects. Here we present a re-sequencing study of the genome and seven plasmids of one of the most widely used Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 substrains, the glucose tolerant and motile Moscow or ‘PCC-M’ strain, revealing considerable evidence for recent microevolution. Seven single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) specifically shared between ‘PCC-M’ and the ‘PCC-N and PCC-P’ substrains indicate that ‘PCC-M’ belongs to the ‘PCC’ group of motile strains. The identified indels and SNPs in ‘PCC-M’ are likely to affect glucose tolerance, motility, phage resistance, certain stress responses as well as functions in the primary metabolism, potentially relevant for the synthesis of alkanes. Three SNPs in intergenic regions could affect the promoter activities of two protein-coding genes and one cis-antisense RNA. Two deletions in ‘PCC-M’ affect parts of clustered regularly interspaced short palindrome repeats-associated spacer-repeat regions on plasmid pSYSA, in one case by an unusual recombination between spacer sequences.
PMCID: PMC3514855  PMID: 23069868
CRISPR; genome sequence; plasmid; substrain; Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803
19.  The Antisense RNA As1_flv4 in the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 Prevents Premature Expression of the flv4-2 Operon upon Shift in Inorganic Carbon Supply* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2012;287(40):33153-33162.
Background: Flavodiiron proteins encoded by the flv4-2 operon are photoprotective for photosystem II, but their regulation of expression has remained enigmatic.
Results: Expression of flv4-2 is controlled jointly by NdhR and the antisense RNA As1_flv4, whereas As1_flv4 is controlled by an AbrB-like factor.
Conclusion: As1_flv4 provides a safety threshold preventing premature expression.
Significance: Regulatory networks controlling photosynthetic photoprotection are highly complex.
The functional relevance of natural cis-antisense transcripts is mostly unknown. Here we have characterized the association of three antisense RNAs and one intergenically encoded noncoding RNA with an operon that plays a crucial role in photoprotection of photosystem II under low carbon conditions in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803. Cyanobacteria show strong gene expression dynamics in response to a shift of cells from high carbon to low levels of inorganic carbon (Ci), but the regulatory mechanisms are poorly understood. Among the most up-regulated genes in Synechocystis are flv4, sll0218, and flv2, which are organized in the flv4-2 operon. The flavodiiron proteins encoded by this operon open up an alternative electron transfer route, likely starting from the QB site in photosystem II, under photooxidative stress conditions. Our expression analysis of cells shifted from high carbon to low carbon demonstrated an inversely correlated transcript accumulation of the flv4-2 operon mRNA and one antisense RNA to flv4, designated as As1_flv4. Overexpression of As1_flv4 led to a decrease in flv4-2 mRNA. The promoter activity of as1_flv4 was transiently stimulated by Ci limitation and negatively regulated by the AbrB-like transcription regulator Sll0822, whereas the flv4-2 operon was positively regulated by the transcription factor NdhR. The results indicate that the tightly regulated antisense RNA As1_flv4 establishes a transient threshold for flv4-2 expression in the early phase after a change in Ci conditions. Thus, it prevents unfavorable synthesis of the proteins from the flv4-2 operon.
PMCID: PMC3460422  PMID: 22854963
Antisense RNA; Cyanobacteria; Gene Expression; Photosynthesis; Photosystem II; Ci Regulation; Flavodiiron Proteins; Noncoding RNA
20.  cis-Antisense RNA, Another Level of Gene Regulation in Bacteria 
Summary: A substantial amount of antisense transcription is a hallmark of gene expression in eukaryotes. However, antisense transcription was first demonstrated in bacteria almost 50 years ago. The transcriptomes of bacteria as different as Helicobacter pylori, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Synechocystis sp. strain PCC6803, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Sinorhizobium meliloti, Geobacter sulfurreducens, Vibrio cholerae, Chlamydia trachomatis, Pseudomonas syringae, and Staphylococcus aureus have now been reported to contain antisense RNA (asRNA) transcripts for a high percentage of genes. Bacterial asRNAs share functional similarities with trans-acting regulatory RNAs, but in addition, they use their own distinct mechanisms. Among their confirmed functional roles are transcription termination, codegradation, control of translation, transcriptional interference, and enhanced stability of their respective target transcripts. Here, we review recent publications indicating that asRNAs occur as frequently in simple unicellular bacteria as they do in higher organisms, and we provide a comprehensive overview of the experimentally confirmed characteristics of asRNA actions and intimately linked quantitative aspects. Emerging functional data suggest that asRNAs in bacteria mediate a plethora of effects and are involved in far more processes than were previously anticipated. Thus, the functional impact of asRNAs should be considered when developing new strategies against pathogenic bacteria and when optimizing bacterial strains for biotechnology.
PMCID: PMC3122628  PMID: 21646430
21.  The Infinitely Many Genes Model for the Distributed Genome of Bacteria 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2012;4(4):443-456.
The distributed genome hypothesis states that the gene pool of a bacterial taxon is much more complex than that found in a single individual genome. However, the possible fitness advantage, why such genomic diversity is maintained, whether this variation is largely adaptive or neutral, and why these distinct individuals can coexist, remains poorly understood. Here, we present the infinitely many genes (IMG) model, which is a quantitative, evolutionary model for the distributed genome. It is based on a genealogy of individual genomes and the possibility of gene gain (from an unbounded reservoir of novel genes, e.g., by horizontal gene transfer from distant taxa) and gene loss, for example, by pseudogenization and deletion of genes, during reproduction. By implementing these mechanisms, the IMG model differs from existing concepts for the distributed genome, which cannot differentiate between neutral evolution and adaptation as drivers of the observed genomic diversity. Using the IMG model, we tested whether the distributed genome of 22 full genomes of picocyanobacteria (Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus) shows signs of adaptation or neutrality. We calculated the effective population size of Prochlorococcus at 1.01 × 1011 and predicted 18 distinct clades for this population, only six of which have been isolated and cultured thus far. We predicted that the Prochlorococcus pangenome contains 57,792 genes and found that the evolution of the distributed genome of Prochlorococcus was possibly neutral, whereas that of Synechococcus and the combined sample shows a clear deviation from neutrality.
PMCID: PMC3342869  PMID: 22357598
bacterial evolution; neutral theory; Prochlorococcus
22.  Evidence for a major role of antisense RNAs in cyanobacterial gene regulation 
Information on the numbers and functions of naturally occurring antisense RNAs (asRNAs) in eubacteria has thus far remained incomplete. Here, we screened the model cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 for asRNAs using four different methods. In the final data set, the number of known noncoding RNAs rose from 6 earlier identified to 60 and of asRNAs from 1 to 73 (28 were verified using at least three methods). Among these, there are many asRNAs to housekeeping, regulatory or metabolic genes, as well as to genes encoding electron transport proteins. Transferring cultures to high light, carbon-limited conditions or darkness influenced the expression levels of several asRNAs, suggesting their functional relevance. Examples include the asRNA to rpl1, which accumulates in a light-dependent manner and may be required for processing the L11 r-operon and the SyR7 noncoding RNA, which is antisense to the murF 5′ UTR, possibly modulating murein biosynthesis. Extrapolated to the whole genome, ∼10% of all genes in Synechocystis are influenced by asRNAs. Thus, chromosomally encoded asRNAs may have an important function in eubacterial regulatory networks.
PMCID: PMC2758717  PMID: 19756044
antisense RNA; cyanobacteria; microarray; noncoding RNA; Synechocystis
23.  Biocomputational prediction of non-coding RNAs in model cyanobacteria 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:123.
In bacteria, non-coding RNAs (ncRNA) are crucial regulators of gene expression, controlling various stress responses, virulence, and motility. Previous work revealed a relatively high number of ncRNAs in some marine cyanobacteria. However, for efficient genetic and biochemical analysis it would be desirable to identify a set of ncRNA candidate genes in model cyanobacteria that are easy to manipulate and for which extended mutant, transcriptomic and proteomic data sets are available.
Here we have used comparative genome analysis for the biocomputational prediction of ncRNA genes and other sequence/structure-conserved elements in intergenic regions of the three unicellular model cyanobacteria Synechocystis PCC6803, Synechococcus elongatus PCC6301 and Thermosynechococcus elongatus BP1 plus the toxic Microcystis aeruginosa NIES843. The unfiltered numbers of predicted elements in these strains is 383, 168, 168, and 809, respectively, combined into 443 sequence clusters, whereas the numbers of individual elements with high support are 94, 56, 64, and 406, respectively. Removing also transposon-associated repeats, finally 78, 53, 42 and 168 sequences, respectively, are left belonging to 109 different clusters in the data set. Experimental analysis of selected ncRNA candidates in Synechocystis PCC6803 validated new ncRNAs originating from the fabF-hoxH and apcC-prmA intergenic spacers and three highly expressed ncRNAs belonging to the Yfr2 family of ncRNAs. Yfr2a promoter-luxAB fusions confirmed a very strong activity of this promoter and indicated a stimulation of expression if the cultures were exposed to elevated light intensities.
Comparison to entries in Rfam and experimental testing of selected ncRNA candidates in Synechocystis PCC6803 indicate a high reliability of the current prediction, despite some contamination by the high number of repetitive sequences in some of these species. In particular, we identified in the four species altogether 8 new ncRNA homologs belonging to the Yfr2 family of ncRNAs. Modelling of RNA secondary structures indicated two conserved single-stranded sequence motifs that might be involved in RNA-protein interactions or in the recognition of target RNAs. Since our analysis has been restricted to find ncRNA candidates with a reasonable high degree of conservation among these four cyanobacteria, there might be many more, requiring direct experimental approaches for their identification.
PMCID: PMC2662882  PMID: 19309518
24.  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
25.  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

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