Global Genetic Capacity for Mixotrophy in Marine Picocyanobacteria

Yelton, A. P. , Acinas, S. G. , Sunagawa, S. , Bork, P. , Pedrós-Alió, C. , & Chisholm, S. W.

The assimilation of organic nutrients by autotrophs, a form of mixotrophy, has been demonstrated in the globally abundant marine picocyanobacterial genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. However, the range of compounds used and the distribution of organic compound uptake genes within picocyanobacteria are unknown. Here we analyze genomic and metagenomic data from around the world to determine the extent and distribution of mixotrophy in these phototrophs. Analysis of 49 Prochlorococcus and 18 Synechococcus isolate genomes reveals that all have the transporters necessary to take up amino acids, peptides and sugars. However, the number and type of transporters and associated catabolic genes differ between different phylogenetic groups, with low-light IV Prochlorococcus, and 5.1B, 5.2 and 5.3 Synechococcus strains having the largest number. Metagenomic data from 68 stations from the Tara Oceans expedition indicate that the genetic potential for mixotrophy in picocyanobacteria is globally distributed and differs between clades. Phylogenetic analyses indicate gradual organic nutrient transporter gene loss from the low-light IV to the high-light II Prochlorococcus. The phylogenetic differences in genetic capacity for mixotrophy, combined with the ubiquity of picocyanobacterial organic compound uptake genes suggests that mixotrophy has a more central role in picocyanobacterial ecology than was previously thought.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 3 May 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.64.