Variability of rRNA Operon Copy Number and Growth Rate Dynamics of Bacillus Isolated from an Extremely Oligotrophic Aquatic Ecosystem
The ribosomal RNA (rrn) operon is a key suite of genes related to the production of protein synthesis machinery and thus to bacterial growth physiology. Experimental evidence has suggested an intrinsic relationship between the number of copies of this operon and environmental resource availability, especially the availability of phosphorus (P), because bacteria that live in oligotrophic ecosystems usually have few rrn operons and a slow growth rate. The Cuatro Ciénegas Basin (CCB) is a complex aquatic ecosystem that contains an unusually high microbial diversity that is able to persist under highly oligotrophic conditions. These environmental conditions impose a variety of strong selective pressures that shape the genome dynamics of their inhabitants. The genus Bacillus is one of the most abundant cultivable bacterial groups in the CCB and usually possesses a relatively large number of rrn operon copies (6–15 copies). The main goal of this study was to analyze the variation in the number of rrn operon copies of Bacillus in the CCB and to assess their growth-related properties as well as their stoichiometric balance (N and P content). We defined 18 phylogenetic groups within the Bacilli clade and documented a range of from six to 14 copies of the rrn operon. The growth dynamic of these Bacilli was heterogeneous and did not show a direct relation to the number of operon copies. Physiologically, our results were not consistent with the Growth Rate Hypothesis, since the copies of the rrn operon were decoupled from growth rate. However, we speculate that the diversity of the growth properties of these Bacilli as well as the low P content of their cells in an ample range of rrn copy number is an adaptive response to oligotrophy of the CCB and could represent an ecological mechanism that allows these taxa to coexist. These findings increase the knowledge of the variability in the number of copies of the rrn operon in the genus Bacillus and give insights about the physiology of this bacterial group under extreme oligotrophic conditions.