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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  A motif-based search in bacterial genomes identifies the ortholog of the small RNA Yfr1 in all lineages of cyanobacteria 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:375.
Non-coding RNAs (ncRNA) are regulators of gene expression in all domains of life. They control growth and differentiation, virulence, motility and various stress responses. The identification of ncRNAs can be a tedious process due to the heterogeneous nature of this molecule class and the missing sequence similarity of orthologs, even among closely related species. The small ncRNA Yfr1 has previously been found in the Prochlorococcus/Synechococcus group of marine cyanobacteria.
Here we show that screening available genome sequences based on an RNA motif and followed by experimental analysis works successfully in detecting this RNA in all lineages of cyanobacteria. Yfr1 is an abundant ncRNA between 54 and 69 nt in size that is ubiquitous for cyanobacteria except for two low light-adapted strains of Prochlorococcus, MIT 9211 and SS120, in which it must have been lost secondarily. Yfr1 consists of two predicted stem-loop elements separated by an unpaired sequence of 16–20 nucleotides containing the ultraconserved undecanucleotide 5'-ACUCCUCACAC-3'.
Starting with an ncRNA previously found in a narrow group of cyanobacteria only, we show here the highly specific and sensitive identification of its homologs within all lineages of cyanobacteria, whereas it was not detected within the genome sequences of E. coli and of 7 other eubacteria belonging to the alpha-proteobacteria, chlorobiaceae and spirochaete. The integration of RNA motif prediction into computational pipelines for the detection of ncRNAs in bacteria appears as a promising step to improve the quality of such predictions.
PMCID: PMC2190773  PMID: 17941988
15.  Fluorescence staining of live cyanobacterial cells suggest non-stringent chromosome segregation and absence of a connection between cytoplasmic and thylakoid membranes 
BMC Cell Biology  2007;8:39.
In spite of their abundance and importance, little is known about cyanobacterial cell biology and their cell cycle. During each cell cycle, chromosomes must be separated into future daughter cells, i.e. into both cell halves, which in many bacteria is achieved by an active machinery that operates during DNA replication. Many cyanobacteria contain multiple identical copies of the chromosome, but it is unknown how chromosomes are segregated into future daughter cells, and if an active or passive mechanism is operative. In addition to an outer and an inner cell membrane, cyanobacteria contain internal thylakoid membranes that carry the active photosynthetic machinery. It is unclear whether thylakoid membranes are invaginations of the inner cell membrane, or an independent membrane system.
We have used different fluorescent dyes to study the organization of chromosomes and of cell and thylakoid membranes in live cyanobacterial cells. FM1-43 stained the outer and inner cytoplasmic membranes but did not enter the interior of the cell. In contrast, thylakoid membranes in unicellular Synechocystis cells became visible through a membrane-permeable stain only. Furthermore, continuous supply of the fluorescent dye FM1-43 resulted in the formation of one to four intracellular fluorescent structures in Synechocystis cells, within occurred within 30 to 60 minutes, and may represent membrane vesicles. Using fluorescent DNA stains, we found that Synechocystis genomic DNA is compacted in the cell centre that is devoid of thylakoid membranes. Nucleoids segregated very late in the cell cycle, just before complete closing of the division septum. In striking contrast to Bacillus subtilis, which possesses an active chromosome segregation machinery, fluorescence intensity of stained nucleoids differed considerably between the two Synechocystis daughter cells soon after cell division.
Our experiments strongly support the idea that the cytoplasmic and thylakoid membranes are not directly connected, but separate entities, in unicellular cyanobacteria. Our findings suggest that a transport system may exist between the cytoplasmic membrane and thylakoids, which could mediate the extension of thylakoid membranes and possibly also protein transport from the cytoplasmic membrane to thylakoid membranes. The cell cycle studies in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 show that the multiple chromosome copies per cell segregate very late in the cell cycle and in a much less stringent manner than in B. subtilis cells, indicating that chromosomes may become segregated randomly and in a passive fashion, possibly through constriction of the division septum.
PMCID: PMC2040150  PMID: 17767716
16.  Genetic Manipulation of Prochlorococcus Strain MIT9313: Green Fluorescent Protein Expression from an RSF1010 Plasmid and Tn5 Transposition▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2006;72(12):7607-7613.
Prochlorococcus is the smallest oxygenic phototroph yet described. It numerically dominates the phytoplankton community in the mid-latitude oceanic gyres, where it has an important role in the global carbon cycle. The complete genomes of several Prochlorococcus strains have been sequenced, revealing that nearly half of the genes in each genome are of unknown function. Genetic methods, such as reporter gene assays and tagged mutagenesis, are critical to unveiling the functions of these genes. Here, we describe conditions for the transfer of plasmid DNA into Prochlorococcus strain MIT9313 by interspecific conjugation with Escherichia coli. Following conjugation, E. coli bacteria were removed from the Prochlorococcus cultures by infection with E. coli phage T7. We applied these methods to show that an RSF1010-derived plasmid will replicate in Prochlorococcus strain MIT9313. When this plasmid was modified to contain green fluorescent protein, we detected its expression in Prochlorococcus by Western blotting and cellular fluorescence. Further, we applied these conjugation methods to show that a mini-Tn5 transposon will transpose in vivo in Prochlorococcus. These genetic advances provide a basis for future genetic studies with Prochlorococcus, a microbe of ecological importance in the world's oceans.
PMCID: PMC1694220  PMID: 17041154
17.  Evidence for the rapid expansion of microRNA-mediated regulation in early land plant evolution 
BMC Plant Biology  2007;7:13.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are regulatory RNA molecules that are specified by their mode of action, the structure of primary transcripts, and their typical size of 20–24 nucleotides. Frequently, not only single miRNAs but whole families of closely related miRNAs have been found in animals and plants. Some families are widely conserved among different plant taxa. Hence, it is evident that these conserved miRNAs are of ancient origin and indicate essential functions that have been preserved over long evolutionary time scales. In contrast, other miRNAs seem to be species-specific and consequently must possess very distinct functions. Thus, the analysis of an early-branching species provides a window into the early evolution of fundamental regulatory processes in plants.
Based on a combined experimental-computational approach, we report on the identification of 48 novel miRNAs and their putative targets in the moss Physcomitrella patens. From these, 18 miRNAs and two targets were verified in independent experiments. As a result of our study, the number of known miRNAs in Physcomitrella has been raised to 78. Functional assignments to mRNAs targeted by these miRNAs revealed a bias towards genes that are involved in regulation, cell wall biosynthesis and defense. Eight miRNAs were detected with different expression in protonema and gametophore tissue. The miRNAs 1–50 and 2–51 are located on a shared precursor that are separated by only one nucleotide and become processed in a tissue-specific way.
Our data provide evidence for a surprisingly diverse and complex miRNA population in Physcomitrella. Thus, the number and function of miRNAs must have significantly expanded during the evolution of early land plants. As we have described here within, the coupled maturation of two miRNAs from a shared precursor has not been previously identified in plants.
PMCID: PMC1838911  PMID: 17359535
18.  Identification of cyanobacterial non-coding RNAs by comparative genome analysis 
Genome Biology  2005;6(9):R73.
The first genome-wide and systematic screen for non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) in cyanobacteria. Several ncRNAs were computationally predicted and their presence was biochemically verified. These ncRNAs may have regulatory functions, and each shows a distinct phylogenetic distribution.
Whole genome sequencing of marine cyanobacteria has revealed an unprecedented degree of genomic variation and streamlining. With a size of 1.66 megabase-pairs, Prochlorococcus sp. MED4 has the most compact of these genomes and it is enigmatic how the few identified regulatory proteins efficiently sustain the lifestyle of an ecologically successful marine microorganism. Small non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) control a plethora of processes in eukaryotes as well as in bacteria; however, systematic searches for ncRNAs are still lacking for most eubacterial phyla outside the enterobacteria.
Based on a computational prediction we show the presence of several ncRNAs (cyanobacterial functional RNA or Yfr) in several different cyanobacteria of the Prochlorococcus-Synechococcus lineage. Some ncRNA genes are present only in two or three of the four strains investigated, whereas the RNAs Yfr2 through Yfr5 are structurally highly related and are encoded by a rapidly evolving gene family as their genes exist in different copy numbers and at different sites in the four investigated genomes. One ncRNA, Yfr7, is present in at least seven other cyanobacteria. In addition, control elements for several ribosomal operons were predicted as well as riboswitches for thiamine pyrophosphate and cobalamin.
This is the first genome-wide and systematic screen for ncRNAs in cyanobacteria. Several ncRNAs were both computationally predicted and their presence was biochemically verified. These RNAs may have regulatory functions and each shows a distinct phylogenetic distribution. Our approach can be applied to any group of microorganisms for which more than one total genome sequence is available for comparative analysis.
PMCID: PMC1242208  PMID: 16168080
19.  Experimental and computational analysis of transcriptional start sites in the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus MED4 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(11):2890-2899.
In contrast to certain model eubacteria, little is known as to where transcription is initiated in the genomes of cyanobacteria, which are largely distinct from other prokaryotes. In this work, 25 transcription start sites (TSS) of 21 different genes of Prochlorococcus sp. MED4 were determined experimentally. The data suggest more than one TSS for the genes ftsZ, petH, psbD and ntcA. In contrast, the rbcL-rbcS operon encoding ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase lacks a detectable promoter and is co-transcribed with the upstream located gene ccmK. The entire set of experimental data was used in a genome-wide scan for putative TSS in Prochlorococcus. A –10 element could be defined, whereas at the –35 position there was no element common to all investigated sequences. However, splitting the data set into sub-classes revealed different types of putative –35 boxes. Only one of them resembled the consensus sequence TTGACA recognized by the vegetative σ factor (σ70) of enterobacteria. Using a scoring matrix of the –10 element, more than 3000 TSS were predicted, about 40% of which were estimated to be functional. This is the first systematic study of transcription initiation sites in a cyanobacterium.
PMCID: PMC156731  PMID: 12771216
20.  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
21.  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
22.  Unraveling the genomic mosaic of a ubiquitous genus of marine cyanobacteria 
Genome Biology  2008;9(5):R90.
Local niche occupancy of marine Synechococcus lineages is facilitated by lateral gene transfers. Genomic islands act as repositories for these transferred genes.
The picocyanobacterial genus Synechococcus occurs over wide oceanic expanses, having colonized most available niches in the photic zone. Large scale distribution patterns of the different Synechococcus clades (based on 16S rRNA gene markers) suggest the occurrence of two major lifestyles ('opportunists'/'specialists'), corresponding to two distinct broad habitats ('coastal'/'open ocean'). Yet, the genetic basis of niche partitioning is still poorly understood in this ecologically important group.
Here, we compare the genomes of 11 marine Synechococcus isolates, representing 10 distinct lineages. Phylogenies inferred from the core genome allowed us to refine the taxonomic relationships between clades by revealing a clear dichotomy within the main subcluster, reminiscent of the two aforementioned lifestyles. Genome size is strongly correlated with the cumulative lengths of hypervariable regions (or 'islands'). One of these, encompassing most genes encoding the light-harvesting phycobilisome rod complexes, is involved in adaptation to changes in light quality and has clearly been transferred between members of different Synechococcus lineages. Furthermore, we observed that two strains (RS9917 and WH5701) that have similar pigmentation and physiology have an unusually high number of genes in common, given their phylogenetic distance.
We propose that while members of a given marine Synechococcus lineage may have the same broad geographical distribution, local niche occupancy is facilitated by lateral gene transfers, a process in which genomic islands play a key role as a repository for transferred genes. Our work also highlights the need for developing picocyanobacterial systematics based on genome-derived parameters combined with ecological and physiological data.
PMCID: PMC2441476  PMID: 18507822

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