Different strains of the same prokaryotic species, even very similar ones, vary in large regions of their genomes. This flexible genome represents a huge reservoir of diversity that allows prokaryotes to exploit their environment efficiently. Most of the flexible genome is concentrated in genomic islands, some of which are present in all the strains and coding for similar functions but containing different genes. These replacement genomic islands are typically involved in exposed cellular structures, and their diversity has been connected to their recognition as targets by prokaryotic viruses (phages). We have compared genomes of closely related aquatic microbes from different origins and found examples of recent replacement of some of these flexible genomic islands. In all cases, that include Gram positive and negative bacteria and one archaeon, the replaced regions boundaries contain tell-tale peaks of increased, mostly synonymous, nucleotide substitutions. They tended to be sharper at the boundary closest to the origin of replication of the island. We will present the hypothesis that replacement flexible genomic islands are often exchanged by homologous recombination between different clonal frames. These recombination events are possibly selected due to the immediate reward provided by a change in the phage sensitivity spectrum.
homologous recombination; SNP; genomic island; aquatic bacteria; phage predation; genomic diversity
We analyzed the prokaryotic community structure of a saltern pond with 21% total salts located in Isla Cristina, Huelva, Southwest Spain, close to the Atlantic ocean coast. For this purpose, we constructed a metagenome (designated as IC21) obtained by pyrosequencing consisting of 486 Mb with an average read length of 397 bp and compared it with other metagenomic datasets obtained from ponds with 19, 33, and 37% total salts acquired from Santa Pola marine saltern, located in Alicante, East Spain, on the Mediterranean coast. Although the salinity in IC21 is closer to the pond with 19% total salts from Santa Pola saltern (designated as SS19), IC21 is more similar at higher taxonomic levels to the pond with 33% total salts from Santa Pola saltern (designated as SS33), since both are predominated by the phylum Euryarchaeota. However, there are significant differences at lower taxonomic levels where most sequences were related to the genus Halorubrum in IC21 and to Haloquadratum in SS33. Within the Bacteroidetes, the genus Psychroflexus is the most abundant in IC21 while Salinibacter dominates in SS33. Sequences related to bacteriorhodopsins and halorhodopsins correlate with the abundance of Haloquadratum in Santa Pola SS19 to SS33 and of Halorubrum in Isla Cristina IC21 dataset, respectively. Differences in composition might be attributed to local ecological conditions since IC21 showed a decrease in the number of sequences related to the synthesis of compatible solutes and in the utilization of phosphonate.
metagenomics; haloarchaea; halophilic bacteria; saltern; prokaryotic diversity
The sequencing of marine metagenomic fosmids led to the discovery of several new complete phage genomes. Among the 21 major sequence groups, 10 totally novel groups of marine phages could be identified. Some of these represent the first phages infecting large marine prokaryotic phyla, such as the Verrucomicrobia and the recently described Ca. Actinomarinales. Coming from a single deep photic zone sample the diversity of phages found is astonishing, and the comparison with a metavirome from the same location indicates that only 2% of the real diversity was recovered. In addition to this large macro-diversity, rich micro-diversity was also found, affecting host-recognition modules, mirroring the variation of cell surface components in their host marine microbes.
metagenomics; metavirome; marine phages; deep chlorophyll maximum; constant-diversity; red-queen; phage evolution; pan-selectome; pan-genome
Metagenomic islands (MGIs) have been defined as genomic regions in prokaryotic genomes that under-recruit from metagenomes where most of the same genome recruits at close to 100% identity over most of its length. The presence of MGIs in prokaryotes has been associated to the diversity of concurrent lineages that vary at this level to disperse the predatory pressure of phages that, reciprocally, maintain high clonal diversity in the population and improve ecosystem performance. This was proposed as a Constant-Diversity (C-D) model. Here we have investigated the regions of phage genomes under-recruiting in a metavirome constructed with a sample from the same habitat where they were retrieved. Some of the genes found to under-recruit are involved in host recognition as would be expected from the C-D model. Furthermore, the recruitment of intragenic regions known to be involved in molecular recognition also had a significant under-recruitment compared to the rest of the gene. However, other genes apparently disconnected from the recognition process under-recruited often, specifically the terminases involved in packaging of the phage genome in the capsid and a few others. In addition, some highly related phage genomes (at nucleotide sequence level) had no metaviromic islands (MVIs). We speculate that the latter might be generalist phages with broad infection range that do not require clone specific lineages.
population genomics; phages; metaviromes; host recognition; marine phages; virome
Viruses infecting prokaryotic cells (phages) are the most abundant entities of the biosphere and contain a largely uncharted wealth of genomic diversity. They play a critical role in the biology of their hosts and in ecosystem functioning at large. The classical approaches studying phages require isolation from a pure culture of the host. Direct sequencing approaches have been hampered by the small amounts of phage DNA present in most natural habitats and the difficulty in applying meta-omic approaches, such as annotation of small reads and assembly. Serendipitously, it has been discovered that cellular metagenomes of highly productive ocean waters (the deep chlorophyll maximum) contain significant amounts of viral DNA derived from cells undergoing the lytic cycle. We have taken advantage of this phenomenon to retrieve metagenomic fosmids containing viral DNA from a Mediterranean deep chlorophyll maximum sample. This method allowed description of complete genomes of 208 new marine phages. The diversity of these genomes was remarkable, contributing 21 genomic groups of tailed bacteriophages of which 10 are completely new. Sequence based methods have allowed host assignment to many of them. These predicted hosts represent a wide variety of important marine prokaryotic microbes like members of SAR11 and SAR116 clades, Cyanobacteria and also the newly described low GC Actinobacteria. A metavirome constructed from the same habitat showed that many of the new phage genomes were abundantly represented. Furthermore, other available metaviromes also indicated that some of the new phages are globally distributed in low to medium latitude ocean waters. The availability of many genomes from the same sample allows a direct approach to viral population genomics confirming the remarkable mosaicism of phage genomes.
Prokaryotic species contain extremely large gene pools (pan-genome) the study of which has been constrained by the difficulties in getting enough cultivated representatives of most of them. The situation of their viruses, also known as phages, that provide part of this genomic diversity and preserve it, is even worse. Here we have found a way to bypass the limitation imposed by pure culture to retrieve phage genomes. We obtained large insert clones (fosmids) from natural communities that are undergoing active viral attack. This has allowed us to triple the number of genomes of marine phages and could be similarly applied to other habitats, shedding light into the biology of the most numerous and least known biological entities on the planet. They exhibit a remarkable degree of variation at one single geographic site but some seem also to be prevalent worldwide. Their frequent mosaicism indicates a high level of promiscuity that goes beyond the already remarkable hybrid nature of prokaryotic genomes.
Marine salterns are composed of several shallow ponds with a salinity gradient, from seawater to salt saturation, with gradually changing microbial populations. Here, we report the metagenome sequencing of the prokaryotic microbiota of two ponds with 13% and 33% salinity from a saltern in Santa Pola, Spain.
Thalassosaline waters produced by the concentration of seawater are widespread and common extreme aquatic habitats. Their salinity varies from that of sea water (ca. 3.5%) to saturation for NaCl (ca. 37%). Obviously the microbiota varies dramatically throughout this range. Recent metagenomic analysis of intermediate salinity waters (19%) indicated the presence of an abundant and yet undescribed gamma-proteobacterium. Two strains belonging to this group have been isolated from saltern ponds of intermediate salinity in two Spanish salterns and were named “Spiribacter”.
The genomes of two isolates of “Spiribacter” have been fully sequenced and assembled. The analysis of metagenomic datasets indicates that microbes of this genus are widespread worldwide in medium salinity habitats representing the first ecologically defined moderate halophile. The genomes indicate that the two isolates belong to different species within the same genus. Both genomes are streamlined with high coding densities, have few regulatory mechanisms and no motility or chemotactic behavior. Metabolically they are heterotrophs with a subgroup II xanthorhodopsin as an additional energy source when light is available.
This is the first bacterium that has been proven by culture independent approaches to be prevalent in hypersaline habitats of intermediate salinity (half a way between the sea and NaCl saturation). Predictions from the proteome and analysis of transporter genes, together with a complete ectoine biosynthesis gene cluster are consistent with these microbes having the salt-out-organic-compatible solutes type of osmoregulation. All these features are also consistent with a well-adapted fully planktonic microbe while other halophiles with more complex genomes such as Salinibacter ruber might have particle associated microniches.
Halophilic bacteria; Xanthorhodopsin; Hypersaline; Saltern; Spiribacter; Moderate halophile
Although numerous marine bacteria are known to produce antibiotics via hybrid NRPS-PKS gene clusters, none have been previously described in an Alteromonas species. In this study, we describe in detail a novel hybrid NRPS-PKS cluster identified in the plasmid of the Alteromonasmacleodii strain AltDE1 and analyze its relatedness to other similar gene clusters in a sequence-based characterization. This is a mobile cluster, flanked by transposase-like genes, that has even been found inserted into the chromosome of some Alteromonasmacleodii strains. The cluster contains separate genes for NRPS and PKS activity. The sole PKS gene appears to carry a novel acyltransferase domain, quite divergent from those currently characterized. The predicted specificities of the adenylation domains of the NRPS genes suggest that the final compound has a backbone very similar to bleomycin related compounds. However, the lack of genes involved in sugar biosynthesis indicates that the final product is not a glycopeptide. Even in the absence of these genes, the presence of the cluster appears to confer complete or partial resistance to phleomycin, which may be attributed to a bleomycin-resistance-like protein identified within the cluster. This also suggests that the compound still shares significant structural similarity to bleomycin. Moreover, transcriptomic evidence indicates that the NRPS-PKS cluster is expressed. Such sequence-based approaches will be crucial to fully explore and analyze the diversity and potential of secondary metabolite production, especially from increasingly important sources like marine microbes.
We describe a deep-branching lineage of marine Actinobacteria with very low GC content (33%) and the smallest free living cells described yet (cell volume ca. 0.013 μm3), even smaller than the cosmopolitan marine photoheterotroph, ‘Candidatus Pelagibacter ubique'. These microbes are highly related to 16S rRNA sequences retrieved by PCR from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans 20 years ago. Metagenomic fosmids allowed a virtual genome reconstruction that also indicated very small genomes below 1 Mb. A new kind of rhodopsin was detected indicating a photoheterotrophic lifestyle. They are estimated to be ~4% of the total numbers of cells found at the site studied (the Mediterranean deep chlorophyll maximum) and similar numbers were estimated in all tropical and temperate photic zone metagenomes available. Their geographic distribution mirrors that of picocyanobacteria and there appears to be an association between these microbial groups. A new sub-class, ‘Candidatus Actinomarinidae' is proposed to designate these microbes.
Cellular metagenomes are primarily used for investigating microbial community structure and function. However, cloned fosmids from such metagenomes capture phage genome fragments that can be used as a source of phage genomes. We show that fosmid cloning from cellular metagenomes and sequencing at a high coverage is a credible alternative to constructing metaviriomes and allows capturing and assembling novel, complete phage genomes. It is likely that phages recovered from cellular metagenomes are those replicating within cells during sample collection and represent “active” phages, naturally amplifying their genomic DNA and increasing chances for cloning. We describe five sets of siphoviral contigs (MEDS1, MEDS2, MEDS3, MEDS4, and MEDS5), obtained by sequencing fosmids from the cellular metagenome of the deep chlorophyll maximum in the Mediterranean. Three of these represent complete siphoviral genomes and two represent partial ones. This is the first set of phage genomes assembled directly from cellular metagenomic fosmid libraries. They exhibit low sequence similarities to one another and to known siphoviruses but are remarkably similar in overall genome architecture. We present evidence suggesting they infect picocyanobacteria, likely Synechococcus. Four of these sets also define a novel branch in the phylogenetic tree of phage large subunit terminases. Moreover, some of these siphoviral groups are globally distributed and abundant in the oceans, comparable to some known myoviruses and podoviruses. This suggests that, as more siphoviral genomes become available, we will be better able to assess the abundance and influence of this diverse and polyphyletic group in the marine habitat.
The genome of Alteromonas macleodii strain ATCC 27126T has been resequenced and closed into a single contig. We describe here the genome of this important and globally distributed marine bacterium.
We have compared genomes of Alteromonas macleodii “deep ecotype” isolates from two deep Mediterranean sites and two surface samples from the Aegean and the English Channel. A total of nine different genomes were analyzed. They belong to five clonal frames (CFs) that differ among them by approximately 30,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) over their core genomes. Two of the CFs contain three strains each with nearly identical genomes (∼100 SNPs over the core genome). One of the CFs had representatives that were isolated from samples taken more than 1,000 km away, 2,500 m deeper, and 5 years apart. These data mark the longest proven persistence of a CF in nature (outside of clinical settings). We have found evidence for frequent recombination events between or within CFs and even with the distantly related A. macleodii surface ecotype. The different CFs had different flexible genomic islands. They can be classified into two groups; one type is additive, that is, containing different numbers of gene cassettes, and is very variable in short time periods (they often varied even within a single CF). The other type was more stable and produced the complete replacement of a genomic fragment by another with different genes. Although this type was more conserved within each CF, we found examples of recombination among distantly related CFs including English Channel and Mediterranean isolates.
Alteromonas macleodii; SNPs; microevolution; recombination; horizontal gene transfer
Four novel, closely related podoviruses, which displayed lytic activity against the gamma-proteobacterium Alteromonas macleodii, have been isolated and sequenced. Alterophages AltAD45-P1 to P4 were obtained from water recovered near a fish farm in the Mediterranean Sea. Their morphology indicates that they belong to the Podoviridae. Their linear and dsDNA genomes are 100–104 kb in size, remarkably larger than any other described podovirus. The four AltAD45-phages share 99% nucleotide sequence identity over 97% of their ORFs, although an insertion was found in AltAD45-P1 and P2 and some regions were slightly more divergent. Despite the high overall sequence similarity among these four phages, the group with the insertion and the group without it, have different host ranges against the A. macleodii strains tested. The AltAD45-P1 to P4 phages have genes for DNA replication and transcription as well as structural genes, which are similar to the N4-like Podoviridae genus that is widespread in proteobacteria. However, in terms of their genomic structure, AltAD45-P1 to P4 differ from that of the N4-like phages. Some distinguishing features include the lack of a large virion encapsidated RNA polymerase gene, very well conserved among all the previously described N4-like phages, a single-stranded DNA binding protein and different tail protein genes. We conclude that the AltAD45 phages characterized in this study constitute a new genus within the Podoviridae.
Alteromonas macleodii; Podoviridae; N4-like virus; lytic phage; marine phages
We have previously used a de novo metagenomic assembly approach to describe the presence of an abundant gammaproteobacterium comprising nearly 15% of the microbial community in an intermediate salinity solar saltern pond. We have obtained this microbe in pure culture and describe the genome sequencing of the halophilic photoheterotrophic microbe, Spiribacter salinus M19-40.
We have analyzed a natural population of the marine bacterium, Alteromonas macleodii, from a single sample of seawater to evaluate the genomic diversity present. We performed full genome sequencing of four isolates and 161 metagenomic fosmid clones, all of which were assigned to A. macleodii by sequence similarity. Out of the four strain genomes, A. macleodii deep ecotype (AltDE1) represented a different genome, whereas AltDE2 and AltDE3 were identical to the previously described AltDE. Although the core genome (∼80%) had an average nucleotide identity of 98.51%, both AltDE and AltDE1 contained flexible genomic islands (fGIs), that is, genomic islands present in both genomes in the same genomic context but having different gene content. Some of the fGIs encode cell surface receptors known to be phage recognition targets, such as the O-chain of the lipopolysaccharide, whereas others have genes involved in physiological traits (e.g., nutrient transport, degradation, and metal resistance) denoting microniche specialization. The presence in metagenomic fosmids of genomic fragments differing from the sequenced strain genomes, together with the presence of new fGIs, indicates that there are at least two more A. macleodii clones present. The availability of three or more sequences overlapping the same genomic region also allowed us to estimate the frequency and distribution of recombination events among these different clones, indicating that these clustered near the genomic islands. The results indicate that this natural A. macleodii population has multiple clones with a potential for different phage susceptibility and exploitation of resources, within a seemingly unstructured habitat.
Alteromonas macleodii; metagenome; population genomics; genomic island; constant-diversity; phage
Alteromonas macleodii is a marine gammaproteobacterium with widespread distribution in temperate or tropical waters. We describe three genomes of isolates from surface waters around Europe (Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea) and compare them with a previously described deep Mediterranean isolate (AltDE) that belongs to a widely divergent clade. The surface isolates are quite similar, the most divergent being the Black Sea (BS11) isolate. The genomes contain several genomic islands with different gene content. The recruitment of very similar genomic fragments from metagenomes in different locations indicates that the surface clade is globally abundant with little effect of geography, even the AltDE and the BS11 genomes recruiting from surface samples in open ocean locations. The finding of CRISPR protospacers of AltDE in a lysogenic phage in the Atlantic (English Channel) isolate illustrates a flow of genetic material among these clades and a remarkably wide distribution of this phage.
The comparative genomics of prokaryotes has shown the presence of conserved regions containing highly similar genes (the 'core genome') and other regions that vary in gene content (the ‘flexible’ regions). A significant part of the latter is involved in surface structures that are phage recognition targets. Another sizeable part provides for differences in niche exploitation. Metagenomic data indicates that natural populations of prokaryotes are composed of assemblages of clonal lineages or "meta-clones" that share a core of genes but contain a high diversity by varying the flexible component. This meta-clonal diversity is maintained by a collection of phages that equalize the populations by preventing any individual clonal lineage from hoarding common resources. Thus, this polyclonal assemblage and the phages preying upon them constitute natural selection units.
Coastal lagoons, both hypersaline and freshwater, are common, but still understudied ecosystems. We describe, for the first time, using high throughput sequencing, the extant microbiota of two large and representative Mediterranean coastal lagoons, the hypersaline Mar Menor, and the freshwater Albufera de Valencia, both located on the south eastern coast of Spain. We show there are considerable differences in the microbiota of both lagoons, in comparison to other marine and freshwater habitats. Importantly, a novel uncultured sulfur oxidizing Alphaproteobacteria was found to dominate bacterioplankton in the hypersaline Mar Menor. Also, in the latter prokaryotic cyanobacteria were almost exclusively comprised by Synechococcus and no Prochlorococcus was found. Remarkably, the microbial community in the freshwaters of the hypertrophic Albufera was completely in contrast to known freshwater systems, in that there was a near absence of well known and cosmopolitan groups of ultramicrobacteria namely Low GC Actinobacteria and the LD12 lineage of Alphaproteobacteria.
Metaviriomes, the viral genomes present in an environment, have been studied by direct sequencing of the viral DNA or by cloning in small insert libraries. The short reads generated by both approaches make it very difficult to assemble and annotate such flexible genomic entities. Many environmental viruses belong to unknown groups or prey on uncultured and little known cellular lineages, and hence might not be present in databases.
Methodology and Principal Findings
Here we have used a different approach, the cloning of viral DNA into fosmids before sequencing, to obtain natural contigs that are close to the size of a viral genome. We have studied a relatively low diversity extreme environment: saturated NaCl brines, which simplifies the analysis and interpretation of the data. Forty-two different viral genomes were retrieved, and some of these were almost complete, and could be tentatively identified as head-tail phages (Caudovirales).
Conclusions and Significance
We found a cluster of phage genomes that most likely infect Haloquadratum walsbyi, the square archaeon and major component of the community in these hypersaline habitats. The identity of the prey could be confirmed by the presence of CRISPR spacer sequences shared by the virus and one of the available strain genomes. Other viral clusters detected appeared to prey on the Nanohaloarchaea and on the bacterium Salinibacter ruber, covering most of the diversity of microbes found in this type of environment. This approach appears then as a viable alternative to describe metaviriomes in a much more detailed and reliable way than by the more common approaches based on direct sequencing. An example of transfer of a CRISPR cluster including repeats and spacers was accidentally found supporting the dynamic nature and frequent transfer of this peculiar prokaryotic mechanism of cell protection.
River water is a small percentage of the total freshwater on Earth but represents an essential resource for mankind. Microbes in rivers perform essential ecosystem roles including the mineralization of significant quantities of organic matter originating from terrestrial habitats. The Amazon river in particular is famous for its size and importance in the mobilization of both water and carbon out of its enormous basin. Here we present the first metagenomic study on the microbiota of this river. It presents many features in common with the other freshwater metagenome available (Lake Gatun in Panama) and much less similarity with marine samples. Among the microbial taxa found, the cosmopolitan freshwater acI lineage of the actinobacteria was clearly dominant. Group I Crenarchaea and the freshwater sister group of the marine SAR11 clade, LD12, were found alongside more exclusive and well known freshwater taxa such as Polynucleobacter. A metabolism-centric analysis revealed a disproportionate representation of pathways involved in heterotrophic carbon processing, as compared to those found in marine samples. In particular, these river microbes appear to be specialized in taking up and mineralizing allochthonous carbon derived from plant material.
The use of carbon monoxide (CO) as a biological energy source is widespread in microbes. In recent years, the role of CO oxidation in superficial ocean waters has been shown to be an important energy supplement for heterotrophs (carboxydovores). The key enzyme CO dehydrogenase was found in both isolates and metagenomes from the ocean's photic zone, where CO is continuously generated by organic matter photolysis. We have also found genes that code for both forms I (low affinity) and II (high affinity) in fosmids from a metagenomic library generated from a 3,000-m depth in the Mediterranean Sea. Analysis of other metagenomic databases indicates that similar genes are also found in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic North Pacific and on the surfaces of this and other oceanic locations (in lower proportions and similarities). The frequency with which this gene was found indicates that this energy-generating metabolism would be at least as important in the bathypelagic habitat as it is in the photic zone. Although there are no data about CO concentrations or origins deep in the ocean, it could have a geothermal origin or be associated with anaerobic metabolism of organic matter. The identities of the microbes that carry out these processes were not established, but they seem to be representatives of either Bacteroidetes or Chloroflexi.
Saturated brines are extreme environments of low diversity. Salinibacter ruber is the only bacterium that inhabits this environment in significant numbers. In order to establish the extent of genetic diversity in natural populations of this microbe, the genomic sequence of reference strain DSM 13855 was compared to metagenomic fragments recovered from climax saltern crystallizers and obtained with 454 sequencing technology. This kind of analysis reveals the presence of metagenomic islands, i.e. highly variable regions among the different lineages in the population.
Three regions of the sequenced isolate were scarcely represented in the metagenome thus appearing to vary among co-occurring S. ruber cells. These metagenomic islands showed evidence of extensive genomic corruption with atypically low GC content, low coding density, high numbers of pseudogenes and short hypothetical proteins. A detailed analysis of island gene content showed that the genes in metagenomic island 1 code for cell surface polysaccharides. The strain-specific genes of metagenomic island 2 were found to be involved in biosynthesis of cell wall polysaccharide components. Finally, metagenomic island 3 was rich in DNA related enzymes.
The genomic organisation of S. ruber variable genomic regions showed a number of convergences with genomic islands of marine microbes studied, being largely involved in variable cell surface traits. This variation at the level of cell envelopes in an environment devoid of grazing pressure probably reflects a global strategy of bacteria to escape phage predation.
The type 1 (microbial) rhodopsins are a diverse group of photochemically reactive proteins that display a broad yet patchy distribution among the three domains of life. Recent work indicates that this pattern is likely the result of lateral gene transfer (LGT) of rhodopsin genes between major lineages, and even across domain boundaries. Within the lineage in which the microbial rhodopsins were initially discovered, the haloarchaea, a similar patchy distribution is observed. In this initial study, we assess the roles of LGT and gene loss in the evolution of haloarchaeal rhodopsin ion pump genes, using phylogenetics and comparative genomics approaches.
Mapping presence/absence of rhodopsins onto the phylogeny of the RNA polymerase B' subunit (RpoB') of the haloarchaea supports previous notions that rhodopsins are patchily distributed. The phylogeny for the bacteriorhodopsin (BR) protein revealed two discrepancies in comparison to the RpoB' marker, while the halorhodopsin (HR) tree showed incongruence to both markers. Comparative analyses of bacteriorhodopsin-linked regions of five haloarchaeal genomes supported relationships observed in the BR tree, and also identified two open reading frames (ORFs) that were more frequently linked to the bacteriorhodopsin gene than those genes previously shown to be important to the function and expression of BR.
The evidence presented here reveals a complex evolutionary history for the haloarchaeal rhodopsins, with both LGT and gene loss contributing to the patchy distribution of rhodopsins within this group. Similarities between the BR and RpoB' phylogenies provide supportive evidence for the presence of bacteriorhodopsin in the last common ancestor of haloarchaea. Furthermore, two loci that we have designated bacterio-opsin associated chaperone (bac) and bacterio-opsin associated protein (bap) are inferred to have important roles in BR biogenesis based on frequent linkage and co-transfer with bacteriorhodopsin genes.
Mature saturated brine (crystallizers) communities are largely dominated (>80% of cells) by the square halophilic archaeon "Haloquadratum walsbyi". The recent cultivation of the strain HBSQ001 and thesequencing of its genome allows comparison with the metagenome of this taxonomically simplified environment. Similar studies carried out in other extreme environments have revealed very little diversity in gene content among the cell lineages present.
The metagenome of the microbial community of a crystallizer pond has been analyzed by end sequencing a 2000 clone fosmid library and comparing the sequences obtained with the genome sequence of "Haloquadratum walsbyi". The genome of the sequenced strain was retrieved nearly complete within this environmental DNA library. However, many ORF's that could be ascribed to the "Haloquadratum" metapopulation by common genome characteristics or scaffolding to the strain genome were not present in the specific sequenced isolate. Particularly, three regions of the sequenced genome were associated with multiple rearrangements and the presence of different genes from the metapopulation. Many transposition and phage related genes were found within this pool which, together with the associated atypical GC content in these areas, supports lateral gene transfer mediated by these elements as the most probable genetic cause of this variability. Additionally, these sequences were highly enriched in putative regulatory and signal transduction functions.
These results point to a large pan-genome (total gene repertoire of the genus/species) even in this highly specialized extremophile and at a single geographic location. The extensive gene repertoire is what might be expected of a population that exploits a diverse nutrient pool, resulting from the degradation of biomass produced at lower salinities.
The square halophilic archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi dominates NaCl-saturated and MgCl2 enriched aquatic ecosystems, which imposes a serious desiccation stress, caused by the extremely low water activity. The genome sequence was analyzed and physiological and physical experiments were carried out in order to reveal how H. walsbyi has specialized into its narrow and hostile ecological niche and found ways to cope with the desiccation stress.
A rich repertoire of proteins involved in phosphate metabolism, phototrophic growth and extracellular protective polymers, including the largest archaeal protein (9159 amino acids), a homolog to eukaryotic mucins, are amongst the most outstanding features. A relatively low GC content (47.9%), 15–20% less than in other halophilic archaea, and one of the lowest coding densities (76.5%) known for prokaryotes might be an indication for the specialization in its unique environment
Although no direct genetic indication was found that can explain how this peculiar organism retains its square shape, the genome revealed several unique adaptive traits that allow this organism to thrive in its specific and extreme niche.