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Palenik, B.  2015.  Molecular mechanisms by which marine phytoplankton respond to their dynamic chemical environment. Annual Review of Marine Science, Vol 7. 7:325-340.   10.1146/annurev-marine-010814-015639   AbstractWebsite

Marine scientists have long been interested in the interactions of marine phytoplankton with their chemical environments. Nutrient availability clearly controls carbon fixation on a global scale, but the interactions between phytoplankton and nutrients are complex and include both short-term responses (seconds to minutes) and longer-term evolutionary adaptations. This review outlines how genomics and functional genomics approaches are providing a better understanding of these complex interactions, especially for cyanobacteria and diatoms, for which the genome sequences of multiple model organisms are available. Transporters and related genes are emerging as the most likely candidates for biomarkers in stress-specific studies, but other genes are also possible candidates. One surprise has been the important role of horizontal gene transfer in mediating chemical-biological interactions.

Paz-Yepes, J, Brahamsha B, Palenik B.  2013.  Role of a Microcin-C-like biosynthetic gene cluster in allelopathic interactions in marine Synechococcus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110:12030-12035.   10.1073/pnas.1306260110   AbstractWebsite

Competition between phytoplankton species for nutrients and light has been studied for many years, but allelopathic interactions between them have been more difficult to characterize. We used liquid and plate assays to determine whether these interactions occur between marine unicellular cyanobacteria of the genus Synechococcus. We have found a clear growth impairment of Synechococcus sp. CC9311 and Synechococcus sp. WH8102 when they are cultured in the presence of Synechococcus sp. CC9605. The genome of CC9605 contains a region showing homology to genes of the Escherichia coli Microcin C (McC) biosynthetic pathway. McC is a ribosome-synthesized peptide that inhibits translation in susceptible strains. We show that the CC9605 McC gene cluster is expressed and that three genes (mccD, mccA, and mccB) are further induced by coculture with CC9311. CC9605 was resistant to McC purified from E. coli, whereas strains CC9311 and WH8102 were sensitive. Cloning the CC9605 McC biosynthetic gene cluster into sensitive CC9311 led this strain to become resistant to both purified E. coli McC and Synechococcus sp. CC9605. A CC9605 mutant lacking mccA1, mccA2, and the N-terminal domain of mccB did not inhibit CC9311 growth, whereas the inhibition of WH8102 was reduced. Our results suggest that an McC-like molecule is involved in the allelopathic interactions with CC9605.

Stuart, RK, Brahamsha B, Busby K, Palenik B.  2013.  Genomic island genes in a coastal marine Synechococcus strain confer enhanced tolerance to copper and oxidative stress. Isme Journal. 7:1139-1149.   10.1038/ismej.2012.175   AbstractWebsite

Highly variable regions called genomic islands are found in the genomes of marine picocyano-bacteria, and have been predicted to be involved in niche adaptation and the ecological success of these microbes. These picocyanobacteria are typically highly sensitive to copper stress and thus, increased copper tolerance could confer a selective advantage under some conditions seen in the marine environment. Through targeted gene inactivation of genomic island genes that were known to be upregulated in response to copper stress in Synechococcus sp. strain CC9311, we found two genes (sync_1495 and sync_1217) conferred tolerance to both methyl viologen and copper stress in culture. The prevalence of one gene, sync_1495, was then investigated in natural samples, and had a predictable temporal variability in abundance at a coastal monitoring site with higher abundance in winter months. Together, this shows that genomic island genes can confer an adaptive advantage to specific stresses in marine Synechococcus, and may help structure their population diversity.

Johnson, TL, Palenik B, Brahamsha B.  2011.  Characterization of a functional vanadium-dependent bromoperoxidase in the marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. CC9311. Journal of Phycology. 47:792-801.   10.1111/j.1529-8817.2011.01007.x   AbstractWebsite

Vanadium-dependent bromoperoxidases (VBPOs) are characterized by the ability to oxidize halides using hydrogen peroxide. These enzymes are well-studied in eukaryotic macroalgae and are known to produce a variety of brominated secondary metabolites. Though genes have been annotated as VBPO in multiple prokaryotic genomes, they remain un-characterized. The genome of the coastal marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. CC9311 encodes a predicted VBPO (YP_731869.1, sync_2681), and in this study, we show that protein extracts from axenic cultures of Synechococcus possess bromoperoxidase activity, oxidizing bromide and iodide, but not chloride. In-gel activity assays of Synechococcus proteins separated using PAGE reveal a single band having VBPO activity. When sequenced via liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS), peptides from the band aligned to the VBPO sequence predicted by the open reading frame (ORF) sync_2681. We show that a VBPO gene is present in a closely related strain, Synechococcus sp. WH8020, but not other clade I Synechococcus strains, consistent with recent horizontal transfer of the gene into Synechococcus. Diverse cyanobacterial-like VBPO genes were detected in a pelagic environment off the California coast using PCR. Investigation of functional VBPOs in unicellular cyanobacteria may lead to discovery of novel halogenated molecules and a better understanding of these organisms' chemical ecology and physiology.