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Genetic diversity of the unicellular nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria UCYN-A and its prymnesiophyte host.

  • Author(s): Thompson, Anne;
  • Carter, Brandon J;
  • Turk-Kubo, Kendra;
  • Malfatti, Francesca;
  • Azam, Farooq;
  • Zehr, Jonathan P
  • et al.

Symbiotic interactions between nitrogen-fixing prokaryotes and photosynthetic eukaryotes are an integral part of biological nitrogen fixation at a global scale. One of these partnerships involves the cyanobacterium UCYN-A, which has been found in partnership with an uncultivated unicellular prymnesiophyte alga in open-ocean and coastal environments. Phylogenetic analysis of the UCYN-A nitrogenase gene (nifH) showed that the UCYN-A lineage is represented by three distinct clades, referred to herein as UCYN-A1, UCYN-A2 and UCYN-A3, which appear to have overlapping and distinct geographic distributions. The relevance of UCYN-A's genetic diversity to its symbiosis and ecology was explored through combining flow cytometric cell sorting and molecular techniques to determine the host identity, nifH expression patterns and host cell size of one newly discovered clade, UCYN-A2, at a coastal site. UCYN-A2 nifH expression peaked during daylight hours, which is consistent with expression patterns of the UCYN-A1 clade in the open ocean. However, the cell size of the UCYN-A2 host was significantly larger than UCYN-A1 and host, suggesting adaptation to different environmental conditions. Like the UCYN-A1 host, the UCYN-A2 host was closely related to the genus Braarudosphaera; however, the UCYN-A1 and UCYN-A2 host rRNA sequences clustered into two distinct clades suggesting co-evolution of symbiont and host.

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