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1.  Clade-Specific Quantitative Analysis of Photosynthetic Gene Expression in Prochlorococcus 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0133207.
Newly designed primers targeting rbcL (CO2 fixation), psbA (photosystem II) and rnpB (reference) genes were used in qRT-PCR assays to assess the photosynthetic capability of natural communities of Prochlorococcus, the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth and a major contributor to primary production in oligotrophic oceans. After optimizing sample collection methodology, we analyzed a total of 62 stations from the Malaspina 2010 circumnavigation (including Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans) at three different depths. Sequence and quantitative analyses of the corresponding amplicons showed the presence of high-light (HL) and low-light (LL) Prochlorococcus clades in essentially all 182 samples, with a largely uniform stratification of LL and HL sequences. Synechococcus cross-amplifications were detected by the taxon-specific melting temperatures of the amplicons. Laboratory exposure of Prochlorococcus MED4 (HL) and MIT9313 (LL) strains to organic pollutants (PAHs and organochlorine compounds) showed a decrease of rbcL transcript abundances, and of the rbcL to psbA ratios for both strains. We propose this technique as a convenient assay to evaluate effects of environmental stressors, including pollution, on the oceanic Prochlorococcus photosynthetic function.
PMCID: PMC4526520  PMID: 26244890
2.  The Black Queen Hypothesis: Evolution of Dependencies through Adaptive Gene Loss 
mBio  2012;3(2):e00036-12.
Reductive genomic evolution, driven by genetic drift, is common in endosymbiotic bacteria. Genome reduction is less common in free-living organisms, but it has occurred in the numerically dominant open-ocean bacterioplankton Prochlorococcus and “Candidatus Pelagibacter,” and in these cases the reduction appears to be driven by natural selection rather than drift. Gene loss in free-living organisms may leave them dependent on cooccurring microbes for lost metabolic functions. We present the Black Queen Hypothesis (BQH), a novel theory of reductive evolution that explains how selection leads to such dependencies; its name refers to the queen of spades in the game Hearts, where the usual strategy is to avoid taking this card. Gene loss can provide a selective advantage by conserving an organism’s limiting resources, provided the gene’s function is dispensable. Many vital genetic functions are leaky, thereby unavoidably producing public goods that are available to the entire community. Such leaky functions are thus dispensable for individuals, provided they are not lost entirely from the community. The BQH predicts that the loss of a costly, leaky function is selectively favored at the individual level and will proceed until the production of public goods is just sufficient to support the equilibrium community; at that point, the benefit of any further loss would be offset by the cost. Evolution in accordance with the BQH thus generates “beneficiaries” of reduced genomic content that are dependent on leaky “helpers,” and it may explain the observed nonuniversality of prototrophy, stress resistance, and other cellular functions in the microbial world.
PMCID: PMC3315703  PMID: 22448042
3.  Dependence of the Cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus on Hydrogen Peroxide Scavenging Microbes for Growth at the Ocean's Surface 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16805.
The phytoplankton community in the oligotrophic open ocean is numerically dominated by the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, accounting for approximately half of all photosynthesis. In the illuminated euphotic zone where Prochlorococcus grows, reactive oxygen species are continuously generated via photochemical reactions with dissolved organic matter. However, Prochlorococcus genomes lack catalase and additional protective mechanisms common in other aerobes, and this genus is highly susceptible to oxidative damage from hydrogen peroxide (HOOH). In this study we showed that the extant microbial community plays a vital, previously unrecognized role in cross-protecting Prochlorococcus from oxidative damage in the surface mixed layer of the oligotrophic ocean. Microbes are the primary HOOH sink in marine systems, and in the absence of the microbial community, surface waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean accumulated HOOH to concentrations that were lethal for Prochlorococcus cultures. In laboratory experiments with the marine heterotroph Alteromonas sp., serving as a proxy for the natural community of HOOH-degrading microbes, bacterial depletion of HOOH from the extracellular milieu prevented oxidative damage to the cell envelope and photosystems of co-cultured Prochlorococcus, and facilitated the growth of Prochlorococcus at ecologically-relevant cell concentrations. Curiously, the more recently evolved lineages of Prochlorococcus that exploit the surface mixed layer niche were also the most sensitive to HOOH. The genomic streamlining of these evolved lineages during adaptation to the high-light exposed upper euphotic zone thus appears to be coincident with an acquired dependency on the extant HOOH-consuming community. These results underscore the importance of (indirect) biotic interactions in establishing niche boundaries, and highlight the impacts that community-level responses to stress may have in the ecological and evolutionary outcomes for co-existing species.
PMCID: PMC3033426  PMID: 21304826
4.  Choreography of the Transcriptome, Photophysiology, and Cell Cycle of a Minimal Photoautotroph, Prochlorococcus 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5135.
The marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus MED4 has the smallest genome and cell size of all known photosynthetic organisms. Like all phototrophs at temperate latitudes, it experiences predictable daily variation in available light energy which leads to temporal regulation and partitioning of key cellular processes. To better understand the tempo and choreography of this minimal phototroph, we studied the entire transcriptome of the cell over a simulated daily light-dark cycle, and placed it in the context of diagnostic physiological and cell cycle parameters. All cells in the culture progressed through their cell cycles in synchrony, thus ensuring that our measurements reflected the behavior of individual cells. Ninety percent of the annotated genes were expressed, and 80% had cyclic expression over the diel cycle. For most genes, expression peaked near sunrise or sunset, although more subtle phasing of gene expression was also evident. Periodicities of the transcripts of genes involved in physiological processes such as in cell cycle progression, photosynthesis, and phosphorus metabolism tracked the timing of these activities relative to the light-dark cycle. Furthermore, the transitions between photosynthesis during the day and catabolic consumption of energy reserves at night— metabolic processes that share some of the same enzymes — appear to be tightly choreographed at the level of RNA expression. In-depth investigation of these patterns identified potential regulatory proteins involved in balancing these opposing pathways. Finally, while this analysis has not helped resolve how a cell with so little regulatory capacity, and a ‘deficient’ circadian mechanism, aligns its cell cycle and metabolism so tightly to a light-dark cycle, it does provide us with a valuable framework upon which to build when the Prochlorococcus proteome and metabolome become available.
PMCID: PMC2663038  PMID: 19352512
5.  Facilitation of Robust Growth of Prochlorococcus Colonies and Dilute Liquid Cultures by “Helper” Heterotrophic Bacteria▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(14):4530-4534.
Axenic (pure) cultures of marine unicellular cyanobacteria of the Prochlorococcus genus grow efficiently only if the inoculation concentration is large; colonies form on semisolid medium at low efficiencies. In this work, we describe a novel method for growing Prochlorococcus colonies on semisolid agar that improves the level of recovery to approximately 100%. Prochlorococcus grows robustly at low cell concentrations, in liquid or on solid medium, when cocultured with marine heterotrophic bacteria. Once the Prochlorococcus cell concentration surpasses a critical threshold, the “helper” heterotrophs can be eliminated with antibiotics to produce axenic cultures. Our preliminary evidence suggests that one mechanism by which the heterotrophs help Prochlorococcus is the reduction of oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC2493173  PMID: 18502916
6.  Prochlorococcus Ecotype Abundances in the North Atlantic Ocean As Revealed by an Improved Quantitative PCR Method†  
The cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus numerically dominates the photosynthetic community in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world's oceans. Six evolutionary lineages of Prochlorococcus have been described, and their distinctive physiologies and genomes indicate that these lineages are “ecotypes” and should have different oceanic distributions. Two methods recently developed to quantify these ecotypes in the field, probe hybridization and quantitative PCR (QPCR), have shown that this is indeed the case. To facilitate a global investigation of these ecotypes, we modified our QPCR protocol to significantly increase its speed, sensitivity, and accessibility and validated the method in the western and eastern North Atlantic Ocean. We showed that all six ecotypes had distinct distributions that varied with depth and location, and, with the exception of the deeper waters at the western North Atlantic site, the total Prochlorococcus counts determined by QPCR matched the total counts measured by flow cytometry. Clone library analyses of the deeper western North Atlantic waters revealed ecotypes that are not represented in the culture collections with which the QPCR primers were designed, explaining this discrepancy. Finally, similar patterns of relative ecotype abundance were obtained in QPCR and probe hybridization analyses of the same field samples, which could allow comparisons between studies.
PMCID: PMC1352191  PMID: 16391112
7.  Prolonged Stationary-Phase Incubation Selects for lrp Mutations in Escherichia coli K-12 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(15):4361-4365.
Evolution by natural selection occurs in cultures of Escherichia coli maintained under carbon starvation stress. Mutants of increased fitness express a growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype, enabling them to grow and displace the parent as the majority population. The first GASP mutation was identified as a loss-of-function allele of rpoS, encoding the stationary-phase global regulator, ςS (M. M. Zambrano, D. A. Siegele, M. A. Almirón, A. Tormo, and R. Kolter, Science 259:1757–1760, 1993). We now report that a second global regulator, Lrp, can also play a role in stationary-phase competition. We found that a mutant that took over an aged culture of an rpoS strain had acquired a GASP mutation in lrp. This GASP allele, lrp-1141, encodes a mutant protein lacking the critical glycine in the turn of the helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domain. The lrp-1141 allele behaves as a null mutation when in single copy and is dominant negative when overexpressed. Hence, the mutant protein appears to retain stability and the ability to dimerize but lacks DNA-binding activity. We also demonstrated that a lrp null allele generated by a transposon insertion has a fitness gain identical to that of the lrp-1141 allele, verifying that cells lacking Lrp activity have a competitive advantage during prolonged starvation. Finally, we tested by genetic analysis the hypothesis that the lrp-1141 GASP mutation confers a fitness gain by enhancing amino acid catabolism during carbon starvation. We found that while amino acid catabolism may play a role, it is not necessary for the lrp GASP phenotype, and hence the lrp GASP phenotype is due to more global physiological changes.
PMCID: PMC101964  PMID: 10894750
8.  Mutations Enhancing Amino Acid Catabolism Confer a Growth Advantage in Stationary Phase 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(18):5800-5807.
Starved cultures of Escherichia coli undergo successive rounds of population takeovers by mutants of increasing fitness. These mutants express the growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype. Previous work identified the rpoS819 allele as a GASP mutation allowing cells to take over stationary-phase cultures after growth in rich media (M. M. Zambrano, D. A. Siegele, M. A. Almirón, A. Tormo, and R. Kolter, Science 259:1757–1760, 1993). Here we have identified three new GASP loci from an aged rpoS819 strain: sgaA, sgaB, and sgaC. Each locus is capable of conferring GASP on the rpoS819 parent, and they can provide successively higher fitnesses for the bacteria in the starved cultures. All four GASP mutations isolated thus far allow for faster growth on both individual and mixtures of amino acids. Each mutation confers a growth advantage on a different subset of amino acids, and these mutations act in concert to increase the overall catabolic capacity of the cell. We present a model whereby this enhanced ability to catabolize amino acids is responsible for the fitness gain during carbon starvation, as it may allow GASP mutants to outcompete the parental cells when growing on the amino acids released by dying cells.
PMCID: PMC94102  PMID: 10482523

Results 1-8 (8)