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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.

Snyder, DS, Brahamsha B, Azadi P, Palenik B.  2009.  Structure of compositionally simple lipopolysaccharide from marine Synechococcus. Journal of Bacteriology. 191:5499-5509.   10.1128/jb.00121-09   AbstractWebsite

Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is the first defense against changing environmental factors for many bacteria. Here, we report the first structure of the LPS from cyanobacteria based on two strains of marine Synechococcus, WH8102 and CC9311. While enteric LPS contains some of the most complex carbohydrate residues in nature, the full-length versions of these cyanobacterial LPSs have neither heptose nor 3-deoxy-D-manno-octulosonic acid (Kdo) but instead 4-linked glucose as their main saccharide component, with low levels of glucosamine and galacturonic acid also present. Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry of the intact minimal core LPS reveals triacylated and tetraacylated structures having a heterogeneous mix of both hydroxylated and nonhydroxylated fatty acids connected to the diglucosamine backbone and a predominantly glucose outer core-like region for both strains. WH8102 incorporated rhamnose in this region as well, contributing to differences in sugar composition and possibly nutritional differences between the strains. In contrast to enteric lipid A, which can be liberated from LPS by mild acid hydrolysis, lipid A from these organisms could be produced by only two novel procedures: triethylamine-assisted periodate oxidation and acetolysis. The lipid A contains odd-chain hydroxylated fatty acids, lacks phosphate, and contains a single galacturonic acid. The LPS lacks any limulus amoebocyte lysate gelation activity. The highly simplified nature of LPSs from these organisms leads us to believe that they may represent either a primordial structure or an adaptation to the relatively higher salt and potentially growth-limiting phosphate levels in marine environments.

Toledo, G, Palenik B, Brahamsha B.  1999.  Swimming marine Synechococcus strains with widely different photosynthetic pigment ratios form a monophyletic group. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 65:5247-5251. AbstractWebsite

Unicellular marine cyanobacteria are ubiquitous in both coastal and oligotrophic regimes. The contribution of these organisms to primary production and nutrient cycling is substantial on a global scale. Natural populations of marine Synechococcus strains include multiple genetic lineages, but the link, if any, between unique phenotypic traits and specific genetic groups is still not understood. We studied the genetic diversity (as determined by the DNA-dependent RNA polymerase rpoC1 gene sequence) of a set of marine Synechococcus isolates that are able to swim, Our results show that these isolates form a monophyletic group. This finding represents the first example of correspondence between a physiological trait and a phylogenetic group in marine Synechococcus. In contrast, the phycourobilin (PUB)/phycoerythrobilin (PEB) pigment ratios of members of the motile clade varied considerably. An isolate obtained from the California Current (strain CC9703) displayed a pigment signature identical to that of nonmotile strain WH7803, which is considered a model for low-PUB/PEB-ratio strains, whereas several motile strains had higher PUB/PEB ratios than strain WH8103, which is considered a model for high-PUB/PEB-ratio strains. These findings indicate that the PUB/FEB pigment ratio is not a useful characteristic for defining phylogenetic groups of marine Synechococcus strains.