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Photoautotrophs assimilate oxidized carbon obtained from one of two sources: dissolved or atmospheric. Despite its size, the pool of lithospheric carbonate is not known to be a direct source for autotrophy. Yet, the mechanism that euendolithic cyanobacteria use to excavate solid carbonates suggests that minerals could directly supply CO[subscript 2] for autotrophy. Here, we use stable isotopes and NanoSIMS to show that the cyanobacterium Mastigocoleus testarum derives most of its carbon from the mineral it excavates, growing preferentially as an endolith when lacking dissolved CO[subscript 2]. Furthermore, natural endolithic communities from intertidal marine carbonate outcrops present carbon isotopic signatures consistent with mineral-sourced autotrophy. These data demonstrate a direct geomicrobial link between mineral carbonate pools and reduced organic carbon, which, given the geographical extent of carbonate outcrops, is likely of global relevance. The ancient fossil record of euendolithic cyanobacteria suggests that biological fixation of solid carbonate could have been relevant since the mid-Proterozoic.
Diversity and Mineral Substrate Preference in Endolithic Microbial Communities From Marine Intertidal Outcrops (Isla de Mona, Puerto Rico)
Endolithic microbial communities are prominent features of intertidal marine habitats, where they colonize a variety of substrates, contributing to their erosion. Almost 2 centuries worth of naturalistic studies focused on a few true-boring (euendolithic) phototrophs, but substrate preference has received little attention. The Isla de Mona (Puerto Rico) intertidal zone offers a unique setting to investigate substrate specificity of endolithic communities since various phosphate rock, limestone and dolostone outcrops occur there. High-throughput 16S rDNA genetic sampling, enhanced by targeted cultivation, revealed that, while euendolithic cyanobacteria were dominant operational taxonomic units (OTUs), the communities were invariably of high diversity, well beyond that reported in traditional studies and implying an unexpected metabolic complexity potentially contributed by secondary colonizers. While the overall community composition did not show differences traceable to the nature of the mineral substrate, we detected specialization among particular euendolithic cyanobacterial clades towards the type of substrate they excavate but only at the OTU phylogenetic level, implying that close relatives have specialized recurrently into particular substrates. The cationic mineral component was determinant in this preference, suggesting the existence in nature of alternatives to the boring mechanism described in culture that is based exclusively on transcellular calcium transport.
Comparative Genomic Analyses of the Cyanobacterium, Lyngbya Aestuarii BL J, a Powerful Hydrogen Producer
The filamentous, non-heterocystous cyanobacterium Lyngbya aestuarii is an important contributor to marine intertidal microbial mats system worldwide. The recent isolate L. aestuarii BL J, is an unusually powerful hydrogen producer. Here we report a morphological, ultrastructural, and genomic characterization of this strain to set the basis for future systems studies and applications of this organism. The filaments contain circa 17 μm wide trichomes, composed of stacked disk-like short cells (2 μm long), encased in a prominent, laminated exopolysaccharide sheath. Cellular division occurs by transversal centripetal growth of cross-walls, where several rounds of division proceed simultaneously. Filament division occurs by cell self-immolation of one or groups of cells (necridial cells) at the breakage point. Short, sheath-less, motile filaments (hormogonia) are also formed. Morphologically and phylogenetically L. aestuarii belongs to a clade of important cyanobacteria that include members of the marine Trichodesmiun and Hydrocoleum genera, as well as terrestrial Microcoleus vaginatus strains, and alkalyphilic strains of Arthrospira. A draft genome of strain BL J was compared to those of other cyanobacteria in order to ascertain some of its ecological constraints and biotechnological potential.
The genome had an average GC content of 41.1%. Of the 6.87 Mb sequenced, 6.44 Mb was present as large contigs (>10,000 bp). It contained 6515 putative protein-encoding genes, of which, 43% encode proteins of known functional role, 26% corresponded to proteins with domain or family assignments, 19.6% encode conserved hypothetical proteins, and 11.3% encode apparently unique hypothetical proteins. The strain's genome reveals its adaptations to a life of exposure to intense solar radiation and desiccation. It likely employs the storage compounds, glycogen, and cyanophycin but no polyhydroxyalkanoates, and can produce the osmolytes, trehalose, and glycine betaine. According to its genome, BL J strain also has the potential to produce a plethora of products of biotechnological interest such as Curacin A, Barbamide, Hemolysin-type calcium-binding toxin, the suncreens scytonemin, and mycosporines, as well as heptadecane and pentadecane alkanes. With respect to hydrogen production, initial comparisons of the genetic architecture and sequence of relevant genes and loci, and a comparative model of protein structure of the NiFe bidirectional hydrogenase, did not reveal conspicuous differences that could explain its unusual hydrogen producing capacity.
Draft Genome Assembly of a Filamentous Euendolithic (True Boring) Cyanobacterium, Mastigocoleus Testarum Strain BC008
Mastigocoleus testarum strain BC008 is a model organism used to study marine photoautotrophic carbonate dissolution. It is a multicellular, filamentous, diazotrophic, euendolithic cyanobacterium ubiquitously found in marine benthic environments. We present an accurate draft genome assembly of 172 contigs spanning 12,700,239 bp with 9,131 annotated genes with an average G+C% of 37.3.
Soils are arguably the most microbially diverse ecosystems. Physicochemical properties have been associated with the maintenance of this diversity. Yet, the role of microbial substrate specialization is largely unexplored since substrate utilization studies have focused on simple substrates, not the complex mixtures representative of the soil environment. Here we examine the exometabolite composition of desert biological soil crusts (biocrusts) and the substrate preferences of seven biocrust isolates. The biocrust's main primary producer releases a diverse array of metabolites, and isolates of physically associated taxa use unique subsets of the complex metabolite pool. Individual isolates use only 13−26% of available metabolites, with only 2 out of 470 used by all and 40% not used by any. An extension of this approach to a mesophilic soil environment also reveals high levels of microbial substrate specialization. These results suggest that exometabolite niche partitioning may be an important factor in the maintenance of microbial diversity.
Soil surface temperature, an important driver of terrestrial biogeochemical processes, depends strongly on soil albedo, which can be significantly modified by factors such as plant cover. In sparsely vegetated lands, the soil surface can be colonized by photosynthetic microbes that build biocrust communities. Here we use concurrent physical, biochemical and microbiological analyses to show that mature biocrusts can increase surface soil temperature by as much as 10 °C through the accumulation of large quantities of a secondary metabolite, the microbial sunscreen scytonemin, produced by a group of late-successional cyanobacteria. Scytonemin accumulation decreases soil albedo significantly. Such localized warming has apparent and immediate consequences for the soil microbiome, inducing the replacement of thermosensitive bacterial species with more thermotolerant forms. These results reveal that not only vegetation but also microorganisms are a factor in modifying terrestrial albedo, potentially impacting biosphere feedbacks on past and future climate, and call for a direct assessment of such effects at larger scales.
Mutational Studies of Putative Biosynthetic Genes for the Cyanobacterial Sunscreen Scytonemin in Nostoc Punctiforme ATCC 29133
The heterocyclic indole-alkaloid scytonemin is a sunscreen found exclusively among cyanobacteria. An 18-gene cluster is responsible for scytonemin production in Nostoc punctiforme ATCC 29133. The upstream genes scyABCDEF in the cluster are proposed to be responsible for scytonemin biosynthesis from aromatic amino acid substrates. In vitro studies of ScyA, ScyB, and ScyC proved that these enzymes indeed catalyze initial pathway reactions. Here we characterize the role of ScyD, ScyE, and ScyF, which were logically predicted to be responsible for late biosynthetic steps, in the biological context of N. punctiforme. In-frame deletion mutants of each were constructed (ΔscyD, ΔscyE, and ΔscyF) and their phenotypes studied. Expectedly, ΔscyE presents a scytoneminless phenotype, but no accumulation of the predicted intermediaries. Surprisingly, ΔscyD retains scytonemin production, implying that it is not required for biosynthesis. Indeed, scyD presents an interesting evolutionary paradox: it likely originated in a duplication event from scyE, and unlike other genes in the operon, it has not been subjected to purifying selection. This would suggest that it is a pseudogene, and yet scyD is highly conserved in the scytonemin operon of cyanobacteria. ΔscyF also retains scytonemin production, albeit exhibiting a reduction of the production yield compared with the wild-type. This indicates that ScyF is not essential but may play an adjuvant role for scytonemin synthesis. Altogether, our findings suggest that these downstream genes are not responsible, as expected, for the late steps of scytonemin synthesis and we must look for those functions elsewhere. These findings are particularly important for biotechnological production of this sunscreen through heterologous expression of its genes in more tractable organisms.
Differential Responses of Dinitrogen Fixation, Diazotrophic Cyanobacteria, and Ammonia Oxidation Reveal a Potential Warming-Induced Imbalance of the N-Cycle in Biological Soil Crusts
N2 fixation and ammonia oxidation (AO) are the two most important processes in the nitrogen (N) cycle of biological soil crusts (BSCs). We studied the short-term response of acetylene reduction assay (ARA) rates, an indicator of potential N2 fixation, and AO rates to temperature (T, -5°C to 35°C) in BSC of different successional stages along the BSC ecological succession and geographic origin (hot Chihuahuan and cooler Great Basin deserts). ARA in all BSCs increased with T until saturation occurred between 15 and 20°C, and declined at 30–35°C. Culture studies using cyanobacteria isolated from these crusts indicated that the saturating effect was traceable to their inability to grow well diazotrophically within the high temperature range. Below saturation, temperature response was exponential, with Q10 significantly different in the two areas (~ 5 for Great Basin BSCs; 2–3 for Chihuahuan BSCs), but similar between the two successional stages. However, in contrast to ARA, AO showed a steady increase to 30–35°C in Great Basin, and Chihuhuan BSCs showed no inhibition at any tested temperature. The T response of AO also differed significantly between Great Basin (Q10 of 4.5–4.8) and Chihuahuan (Q10 of 2.4–2.6) BSCs, but not between successional stages. Response of ARA rates to T did not differ from that of AO in either desert. Thus, while both processes scaled to T in unison until 20°C, they separated to an increasing degree at higher temperature. As future warming is likely to occur in the regions where BSCs are often the dominant living cover, this predicted decoupling is expected to result in higher proportion of nitrates in soil relative to ammonium. As nitrate is more easily lost as leachate or to be reduced to gaseous forms, this could mean a depletion of soil N over large landscapes globally.
A Comparative Genomics Approach to Understanding the Biosynthesis of the Sunscreen Scytonemin in Cyanobacteria
Background: The extracellular sunscreen scytonemin is the most common and widespread indole-alkaloid among cyanobacteria. Previous research using the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme ATCC 29133 revealed a unique 18-gene cluster (NpR1276 to NpR1259 in the N. punctiforme genome) involved in the biosynthesis of scytonemin. We provide further genomic characterization of these genes in N. punctiforme and extend it to homologous regions in other cyanobacteria.
Results: Six putative genes in the scytonemin gene cluster (NpR1276 to NpR1271 in the N. punctiforme genome), with no previously known protein function and annotated in this study as scyA to scyF, are likely involved in the assembly of scytonemin from central metabolites, based on genetic, biochemical, and sequence similarity evidence. Also in this cluster are redundant copies of genes encoding for aromatic amino acid biosynthetic enzymes. These can theoretically lead to tryptophan and the tyrosine precursor, p-hydroxyphenylpyruvate, (expected biosynthetic precursors of scytonemin) from end products of the shikimic acid pathway. Redundant copies of the genes coding for the key regulatory and rate-limiting enzymes of the shikimic acid pathway are found there as well. We identified four other cyanobacterial strains containing orthologues of all of these genes, three of them by database searches (Lyngbya PCC 8106, Anabaena PCC 7120, and Nodularia CCY 9414) and one by targeted sequencing (Chlorogloeopsis sp. strain Cgs-089; CCMEE 5094). Genomic comparisons revealed that most scytonemin-related genes were highly conserved among strains and that two additional conserved clusters, NpF5232 to NpF5236 and a putative two-component regulatory system (NpF1278 and NpF1277), are likely involved in scytonemin biosynthesis and regulation, respectively, on the basis of conservation and location. Since many of the protein product sequences for the newly described genes, including ScyD, ScyE, and ScyF, have export signal domains, while others have putative transmembrane domains, it can be inferred that scytonemin biosynthesis is compartmentalized within the cell. Basic structural monomer synthesis and initial condensation are most likely cytoplasmic, while later reactions are predicted to be periplasmic.
Conclusion: We show that scytonemin biosynthetic genes are highly conserved among evolutionarily diverse strains, likely include more genes than previously determined, and are predicted to involve compartmentalization of the biosynthetic pathway in the cell, an unusual trait for prokaryotes.
Biological Soil Crusts (BSCs) are organosedimentary assemblages comprised of microbes and minerals in topsoil of terrestrial environments. BSCs strongly impact soil quality in dryland ecosystems (e.g., soil structure and nutrient yields) due to pioneer species such as Microcoleus vaginatus; phototrophs that produce filaments that bind the soil together, and support an array of heterotrophic microorganisms. These microorganisms in turn contribute to soil stability and biogeochemistry of BSCs. Non-cyanobacterial populations of BSCs are less well known than cyanobacterial populations. Therefore, we attempted to isolate a broad range of numerically significant and phylogenetically representative BSC aerobic heterotrophs. Combining simple pre-treatments (hydration of BSCs under dark and light) and isolation strategies (media with varying nutrient availability and protection from oxidative stress) we recovered 402 bacterial and one fungal isolate in axenic culture, which comprised 116 phylotypes (at 97% 16S rRNA gene sequence homology), 115 bacterial and one fungal. Each medium enriched a mostly distinct subset of phylotypes, and cultivated phylotypes varied due to the BSC pre-treatment. The fraction of the total phylotype diversity isolated, weighted by relative abundance in the community, was determined by the overlap between isolate sequences and OTUs reconstructed from metagenome or metatranscriptome reads. Together, more than 8% of relative abundance of OTUs in the metagenome was represented by our isolates, a cultivation efficiency much larger than typically expected from most soils. We conclude that simple cultivation procedures combined with specific pre-treatment of samples afford a significant reduction in the culturability gap, enabling physiological and metabolic assays that rely on ecologically relevant axenic cultures.