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1.  Phaeocystis antarctica blooms strongly influence bacterial community structures in the Amundsen Sea polynya 
Rising temperatures and changing winds drive the expansion of the highly productive polynyas (open water areas surrounded by sea ice) abutting the Antarctic continent. Phytoplankton blooms in polynyas are often dominated by the haptophyte Phaeocystis antarctica, and they generate the organic carbon that enters the resident microbial food web. Yet, little is known about how Phaeocystis blooms shape bacterial community structures and carbon fluxes in these systems. We identified the bacterial communities that accompanied a Phaeocystis bloom in the Amundsen Sea polynya during the austral summers of 2007–2008 and 2010–2011. These communities are distinct from those determined for the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and off the Palmer Peninsula. Diversity patterns for most microbial taxa in the Amundsen Sea depended on location (e.g., waters abutting the pack ice near the shelf break and at the edge of the Dotson glacier) and depth, reflecting different niche adaptations within the confines of this isolated ecosystem. Inside the polynya, P. antarctica coexisted with the bacterial taxa Polaribacter sensu lato, a cryptic Oceanospirillum, SAR92 and Pelagibacter. These taxa were dominated by a single oligotype (genotypes partitioned by Shannon entropy analysis) and together contributed up to 73% of the bacterial community. Size fractionation of the bacterial community [<3 μm (free-living bacteria) vs. >3 μm (particle-associated bacteria)] identified several taxa (especially SAR92) that were preferentially associated with Phaeocystis colonies, indicative of a distinct role in Phaeocystis bloom ecology. In contrast, particle-associated bacteria at 250 m depth were enriched in Colwellia and members of the Cryomorphaceae suggesting that they play important roles in the decay of Phaeocystis blooms.
PMCID: PMC4271704  PMID: 25566197
Amundsen Sea polynya; phytoplankton bloom; Phaeocystis antarctica; microbial community structure; mutualism
2.  Rapid and gradual modes of aerosol trace metal dissolution in seawater 
Atmospheric deposition is a major source of trace metals in marine surface waters and supplies vital micronutrients to phytoplankton, yet measured aerosol trace metal solubility values are operationally defined, and there are relatively few multi-element studies on aerosol-metal solubility in seawater. Here we measure the solubility of aluminum (Al), cadmium (Cd), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), and zinc (Zn) from natural aerosol samples in seawater over a 7 days period to (1) evaluate the role of extraction time in trace metal dissolution behavior and (2) explore how the individual dissolution patterns could influence biota. Dissolution behavior occurs over a continuum ranging from rapid dissolution, in which the majority of soluble metal dissolved immediately upon seawater exposure (Cd and Co in our samples), to gradual dissolution, where metals dissolved slowly over time (Zn, Mn, Cu, and Al in our samples). Additionally, dissolution affected by interactions with particles was observed in which a decline in soluble metal concentration over time occurred (Fe and Pb in our samples). Natural variability in aerosol chemistry between samples can cause metals to display different dissolution kinetics in different samples, and this was particularly evident for Ni, for which samples showed a broad range of dissolution rates. The elemental molar ratio of metals in the bulk aerosols was 23,189Fe: 22,651Al: 445Mn: 348Zn: 71Cu: 48Ni: 23Pb: 9Co: 1Cd, whereas the seawater soluble molar ratio after 7 days of leaching was 11Fe: 620Al: 205Mn: 240Zn: 20Cu: 14Ni: 9Pb: 2Co: 1Cd. The different kinetics and ratios of aerosol metal dissolution have implications for phytoplankton nutrition, and highlight the need for unified extraction protocols that simulate aerosol metal dissolution in the surface ocean.
PMCID: PMC4301189  PMID: 25653645
aerosols; atmospheric deposition; phytoplankton; trace metals; ligands
3.  Satellite remote sensing data can be used to model marine microbial metabolite turnover 
The ISME Journal  2014;9(1):166-179.
Sampling ecosystems, even at a local scale, at the temporal and spatial resolution necessary to capture natural variability in microbial communities are prohibitively expensive. We extrapolated marine surface microbial community structure and metabolic potential from 72 16S rRNA amplicon and 8 metagenomic observations using remotely sensed environmental parameters to create a system-scale model of marine microbial metabolism for 5904 grid cells (49 km2) in the Western English Chanel, across 3 years of weekly averages. Thirteen environmental variables predicted the relative abundance of 24 bacterial Orders and 1715 unique enzyme-encoding genes that encode turnover of 2893 metabolites. The genes' predicted relative abundance was highly correlated (Pearson Correlation 0.72, P-value <10−6) with their observed relative abundance in sequenced metagenomes. Predictions of the relative turnover (synthesis or consumption) of CO2 were significantly correlated with observed surface CO2 fugacity. The spatial and temporal variation in the predicted relative abundances of genes coding for cyanase, carbon monoxide and malate dehydrogenase were investigated along with the predicted inter-annual variation in relative consumption or production of ∼3000 metabolites forming six significant temporal clusters. These spatiotemporal distributions could possibly be explained by the co-occurrence of anaerobic and aerobic metabolisms associated with localized plankton blooms or sediment resuspension, which facilitate the presence of anaerobic micro-niches. This predictive model provides a general framework for focusing future sampling and experimental design to relate biogeochemical turnover to microbial ecology.
PMCID: PMC4274419  PMID: 25072414
4.  Long Term Seasonal Dynamics of Synechococcus Population Structure in the Gulf of Aqaba, Northern Red Sea 
Spatial patterns of marine Synechococcus diversity across ocean domains have been reported on extensively. However, much less is known of seasonal and multiannual patterns of change in Synechococcus community composition. Here we report on the genotypic diversity of Synechococcus populations in the Gulf of Aqaba, Northern Red Sea, over seven annual cycles of deep mixing and stabile stratification, using ntcA as a phylogenetic marker. Synechococcus clone libraries were dominated by clade II and XII genotypes and a total of eight different clades were identified. Inclusion of ntcA sequences from the Global Ocean Sampling database in our analyses identified members of clade XII from beyond the Gulf of Aqaba, extending its known distribution. Most of the Synechococcus diversity was attributed to members of clade II during the spring bloom, while clade III contributed significantly to diversity during summer stratification. Clade XII diversity was most prevalent in fall and winter. Clade abundances were estimated from pyrosequencing of the V6 hypervariable region of 16S rRNA. Members of clade II dominated Synechococcus communities throughout the year, whereas the less frequent genotypes showed a pattern of seasonal succession. Based on the prevailing nutritional conditions we observed that clade I members thrive at higher nutrient concentrations during winter mixing. Clades V, VI and X became apparent during the transition periods between mixing and stratification. Clade III became prominent during sumeer stratification. We propose that members of clades V, VI, and X, and clade III are Synechococcus ecotypes that are adapted to intermediate and low nutrient levels respectively. This is the first time that molecular analyses have correlated population dynamics of Synechococcus genotypes with temporal fluctuations in nutrient regimes. Since these Synechococcus genotypes are routinely observed in the Gulf of Aqaba we suggest that seasonal fluctuations in nutrient levels create temporal niches that sustain their coexistence.
PMCID: PMC3122069  PMID: 21734910
marine cyanobacteria; Synechococcus; succession; diversity; ecotype
5.  Physiology and molecular biology of aquatic cyanobacteria 
PMCID: PMC4099938  PMID: 25076944
cyanobacteria; HABs; Prochlorococcus; Synechococcus; nitrogen fixation
7.  Microbial rhodopsins on leaf surfaces of terrestrial plants 
Environmental microbiology  2011;14(1):140-146.
The above-ground surfaces of terrestrial plants, the phyllosphere, comprise the main interface between the terrestrial biosphere and solar radiation. It is estimated to host up to 1026 microbial cells that may intercept part of the photon flux impinging on the leaves. Based on 454-pyrosequencing-generated metagenome data, we report on the existence of diverse microbial rhodopsins in five distinct phyllospheres from tamarisk (Tamarix nilotica), soybean (Glycine max), Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana), clover (Trifolium repens) and rice (Oryza sativa). Our findings, for the first time describing microbial rhodopsins from non-aquatic habitats, point towards the potential coexistence of microbial rhodopsin-based phototrophy and plant chlorophyll-based photosynthesis, with the different pigments absorbing non-overlapping fractions of the light spectrum.
PMCID: PMC3608849  PMID: 21883799
8.  Massive multiplication of genome and ribosomes in dormant cells (akinetes) of Aphanizomenon ovalisporum (Cyanobacteria) 
The ISME Journal  2011;6(3):670-679.
Akinetes are dormancy cells commonly found among filamentous cyanobacteria, many of which are toxic and/or nuisance, bloom-forming species. Development of akinetes from vegetative cells is a process that involves morphological and biochemical modifications. Here, we applied a single-cell approach to quantify genome and ribosome content of akinetes and vegetative cells in Aphanizomenon ovalisporum (Cyanobacteria). Vegetative cells of A. ovalisporum were naturally polyploid and contained, on average, eight genome copies per cell. However, the chromosomal content of akinetes increased up to 450 copies, with an average value of 119 genome copies per akinete, 15-fold higher than that in vegetative cells. On the basis of fluorescence in situ hybridization, with a probe targeting 16S rRNA, and detection with confocal laser scanning microscopy, we conclude that ribosomes accumulated in akinetes to a higher level than that found in vegetative cells. We further present evidence that this massive accumulation of nucleic acids in akinetes is likely supported by phosphate supplied from inorganic polyphosphate bodies that were abundantly present in vegetative cells, but notably absent from akinetes. These results are interpreted in the context of cellular investments for proliferation following a long-term dormancy, as the high nucleic acid content would provide the basis for extended survival, rapid resumption of metabolic activity and cell division upon germination.
PMCID: PMC3280138  PMID: 21975597
akinetes; cyanobacteria; fluorescence in situ hybridization; polyphosphate; polyploidy; laser microdissection microscopy
9.  Decoupling of ammonium regulation and ntcA transcription in the diazotrophic marine cyanobacterium Trichodesmium sp. IMS101 
The ISME Journal  2011;6(3):629-637.
Nitrogen (N) physiology in the marine cyanobacterium Trichodesmium IMS101 was studied along with transcript accumulation of the N-regulatory gene ntcA and of two of its target genes: napA (nitrate assimilation) and nifH (N2 fixation). N2 fixation was impaired in the presence of nitrite, nitrate and urea. Strain IMS101 was capable of growth on these combined N sources at <2 μ but growth rates declined at elevated concentrations. Assimilation of nitrate and urea was impaired in the presence of ammonium. Whereas ecologically relevant N concentrations (2–20 μ) suppressed growth and assimilation, much higher concentrations were required to affect transcript levels. Transcripts of nifH accumulated under nitrogen-fixing conditions; these transcript levels were maintained in the presence of nitrate (100 μ) and ammonium (20 μ). However, nifH transcript levels were below detection at ammonium concentrations >20 μ. napA mRNA was found at low levels in both N2-fixing and ammonium-utilizing filaments, and it accumulated in filaments grown with nitrate. The positive effect of nitrate on napA transcription was abolished by ammonium additions of >200 μ. This effect was restored upon addition of the glutamine synthetase inhibitor -methionin--sulfoximine. Surprisingly, ntcA transcript levels remained high in the presence of ammonium, even at elevated concentrations. These findings indicate that ammonium repression is decoupled from transcriptional activation of ntcA in Trichodesmium IMS101.
PMCID: PMC3280139  PMID: 21938021
cyanobacteria; Trichodesmium; N assimilation; nitrogen fixation; ntcA
10.  Distance-Decay Relationships Partially Determine Diversity Patterns of Phyllosphere Bacteria on Tamrix Trees across the Sonoran Desert 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(17):6187-6193.
Dispersal limitation in phyllosphere communities was measured on the leaf surfaces of salt-excreting Tamarix trees, which offer unique, discrete habitats for microbial assemblages. We employed 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing to measure bacterial community dissimilarity on leaves of spatially dispersed Tamarix specimens in sites with uniform climatic conditions across the Sonoran Desert in the Southwestern United States. Our analyses revealed diverse bacterial communities with four dominant phyla that exhibited differential effects of environmental and geographic variables. Geographical distance was the most important parameter that affected community composition, particularly that of betaproteobacteria, which displayed a statistically significant, distance-decay relationship.
PMCID: PMC3416633  PMID: 22752165
11.  Geographical Location Determines the Population Structure in Phyllosphere Microbial Communities of a Salt-Excreting Desert Tree▿† 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(21):7647-7655.
The leaf surfaces of Tamarix, a salt-secreting desert tree, harbor a diverse community of microbial epiphytes. This ecosystem presents a unique combination of ecological characteristics and imposes a set of extreme stress conditions. The composition of the microbial community along ecological gradients was studied from analyses of microbial richness and diversity in the phyllosphere of three Tamarix species in the Mediterranean and Dead Sea regions in Israel and in two locations in the United States. Over 200,000 sequences of the 16S V6 and 18S V9 hypervariable regions revealed a diverse community, with 788 bacterial and 64 eukaryotic genera but only one archaeal genus. Both geographic location and tree species were determinants of microbial community structures, with the former being more dominant. Tree leaves of all three species in the Mediterranean region were dominated by Halomonas and Halobacteria, whereas trees from the Dead Sea area were dominated by Actinomycetales and Bacillales. Our findings demonstrate that microbial phyllosphere communities on different Tamarix species are highly similar in the same locale, whereas trees of the same species that grow in different climatic regions host distinct microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC3209174  PMID: 21926212
12.  Characterization of Cyanate Metabolism in Marine Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus spp. ▿  
Cyanobacteria of the genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus are the most abundant photosynthetic organisms on earth, occupying a key position at the base of marine food webs. The cynS gene that encodes cyanase was identified among bacterial, fungal, and plant sequences in public databases, and the gene was particularly prevalent among cyanobacteria, including numerous Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus strains. Phylogenetic analysis of cynS sequences retrieved from the Global Ocean Survey database identified >60% as belonging to unicellular marine cyanobacteria, suggesting an important role for cyanase in their nitrogen metabolism. We demonstrate here that marine cyanobacteria have a functionally active cyanase, the transcriptional regulation of which varies among strains and reflects the genomic context of cynS. In Prochlorococcus sp. strain MED4, cynS was presumably transcribed as part of the cynABDS operon, implying cyanase involvement in cyanate utilization. In Synechococcus sp. strain WH8102, expression was not related to nitrogen stress responses and here cyanase presumably serves in the detoxification of cyanate resulting from intracellular urea and/or carbamoyl phosphate decomposition. Lastly, we report on a cyanase activity encoded by cynH, a novel gene found in marine cyanobacteria only. The presence of dual cyanase genes in the genomes of seven marine Synechococcus strains and their respective roles in nitrogen metabolism remain to be clarified.
PMCID: PMC3019706  PMID: 21057026
13.  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
14.  Clade-Specific 16S Ribosomal DNA Oligonucleotides Reveal the Predominance of a Single Marine Synechococcus Clade throughout a Stratified Water Column in the Red Sea 
Phylogenetic relationships among members of the marine Synechococcus genus were determined following sequencing of the 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) from 31 novel cultured isolates from the Red Sea and several other oceanic environments. This revealed a large genetic diversity within the marine Synechococcus cluster consistent with earlier work but also identified three novel clades not previously recognized. Phylogenetic analyses showed one clade, containing halotolerant isolates lacking phycoerythrin (PE) and including strains capable, or not, of utilizing nitrate as the sole N source, which clustered within the MC-A (Synechococcus subcluster 5.1) lineage. Two copies of the 16S rRNA gene are present in marine Synechococcus genomes, and cloning and sequencing of these copies from Synechococcus sp. strain WH 7803 and genomic information from Synechococcus sp. strain WH 8102 reveal these to be identical. Based on the 16S rDNA sequence information, clade-specific oligonucleotides for the marine Synechococcus genus were designed and their specificity was optimized. Using dot blot hybridization technology, these probes were used to determine the in situ community structure of marine Synechococcus populations in the Red Sea at the time of a Synechococcus maximum during April 1999. A predominance of genotypes representative of a single clade was found, and these genotypes were common among strains isolated into culture. Conversely, strains lacking PE, which were also relatively easily isolated into culture, represented only a minor component of the Synechococcus population. Genotypes corresponding to well-studied laboratory strains also appeared to be poorly represented in this stratified water column in the Red Sea.
PMCID: PMC154553  PMID: 12732508
15.  A Synechococcus PglnA::luxAB Fusion for Estimation of Nitrogen Bioavailability to Freshwater Cyanobacteria 
In contrast to extensive studies of phosphorus, widely considered the main nutrient limiting phytoplankton biomass in freshwater ecosystems, there have been few studies on the role of nitrogen in controlling phytoplankton populations. This situation may be due partly to the complexity in estimating its utilization and bioavailability. In an attempt to provide a novel tool for this purpose, we fused the promoter of the glutamine synthetase-encoding gene, P glnA, from Synechococcus sp. strain PCC7942 to the luxAB luciferase-encoding genes of the bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio harveyi. The resulting construct was introduced into a neutral site on the Synechococcus chromosome to yield the reporter strain GSL. Light emission by this strain was dependent upon ambient nitrogen concentrations. The linear response range of the emitted luminescence was 1 mM to 1 μM for the inorganic nitrogen species tested (ammonium, nitrate, and nitrite) and 10- to 50-fold lower for glutamine and urea. When water samples collected from along a depth profile in Lake Kinneret (Israel) were exposed to the reporter strain, the bioluminescence of the reporter strain mirrored the total dissolved nitrogen concentrations determined for the same samples and was shown to be a sensitive indicator of the concentration of bioavailable nitrogen.
PMCID: PMC150075  PMID: 12620830
16.  Ecological Aspects of ntcA Gene Expression and Its Use as an Indicator of the Nitrogen Status of Marine Synechococcus spp. 
Nitrogen nutrition in cyanobacteria is regulated by NtcA, a transcriptional activator that is subject to negative control by ammonium. Using Synechococcus sp. strain WH7803 as a model organism, we show that ntcA expression was induced when cells were exposed to nitrogen stress but not when they were subjected to phosphorus or iron deprivation. Transcript levels accumulated in cells grown on a variety of inorganic and organic nitrogen sources, with the sole exception of ammonium. ntcA transcription was induced when ammonium levels dropped below 1 μM and reached maximal levels within 2 h. Furthermore, the addition of more than 1 μM ammonium led to a rapid decline in ntcA mRNA. The negative effect of ammonium was prevented by the addition of l-methionine-d,l-sulfoximine (MSX) and azaserine, inhibitors of ammonium assimilation. Thus, basal ntcA transcript levels are indicative of ammonium utilization. Conversely, the highest ntcA transcript levels were found in cells lacking a nitrogen source capable of supporting growth. Therefore, maximal ntcA expression would indicate nitrogen deprivation. This state of nitrogen deprivation was induced by a 1-h incubation with MSX. The rapid response of ntcA gene expression to the addition of ammonium and MSX was used to design a protocol for assessing relative ntcA transcript levels in field populations of cyanobacteria, from which their nitrogen status can be inferred. ntcA was basally expressed in Synechococcus at a nutrient-enriched site at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea. Therefore, these cyanobacteria were not nitrogen stressed, and their nitrogen requirements were met by regenerated nitrogen in the form of ammonium.
PMCID: PMC93026  PMID: 11472902
17.  Nitrate Assimilation Genes of the Marine Diazotrophic, Filamentous Cyanobacterium Trichodesmium sp. Strain WH9601 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(6):1764-1767.
A 4.0-kb DNA fragment of Trichodesmium sp. strain WH9601 contained gene sequences encoding the nitrate reduction enzymes, nirA and narB. A third gene positioned between nirA and narB encodes a putative membrane protein with similarity to the nitrate permeases of Bacillus subtilis (NasA) and Emericella nidulans (CrnA). The gene was shown to functionally complement a ΔnasA mutant of B. subtilis and was assigned the name napA (nitrate permease). NapA was involved in both nitrate and nitrite uptake by the complemented B. subtilis cells. napA is distinct from the nrt genes that encode the nitrate transporter of freshwater cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC94478  PMID: 10692386
18.  Regulation of ntcA Expression and Nitrite Uptake in the Marine Synechococcus sp. Strain WH 7803 
Journal of Bacteriology  1998;180(7):1878-1886.
NtcA is a transcriptional activator involved in global nitrogen control in cyanobacteria. In the absence of ammonium it regulates the transcription of a series of genes encoding proteins required for the uptake and assimilation of alternative nitrogen sources (I. Luque, E. Flores, and A. Herrero, EMBO J. 13:2862–2869, 1994). ntcA, present in a single copy in the marine Synechococcus sp. strain WH 7803, was cloned and sequenced. The putative amino acid sequence shows a high degree of identity to NtcA from freshwater cyanobacteria in two functional domains. The expression of ntcA was negatively regulated by ammonium from a putative transcription start point located downstream of an NtcA consensus recognition sequence. Addition of either rifampin or ammonium led to a rapid decline in ntcA transcript levels with half-lives of less than 2 min in both cases. Nitrate-grown cells showed high ntcA transcript levels, as well as the capacity for active nitrite uptake. However, ammonium-grown cells showed low levels of the ntcA transcript and did not utilize nitrite. The addition of ammonium to nitrite uptake-active cells resulted in a gradual decline in the rate of uptake over a 24-h period. Active nitrite uptake was not induced in cells transferred to medium lacking a nitrogen source despite evidence of elevated expression of ntcA, indicating that ntcA expression is not sufficient for uptake capacity to develop. Nitrate and nitrite addition led to the development of nitrite uptake, whereas the addition of leucine did not. Furthermore, nitrite addition triggered the de novo protein synthesis required for uptake capacity to develop. These data suggest that nitrite and nitrate act as specific inducers for the synthesis of proteins required for nitrite uptake.
PMCID: PMC107103  PMID: 9537388

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