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Distinctive gene and protein characteristics of extremely piezophilic Colwellia.

  • Author(s): Peoples, Logan M;
  • Kyaw, Than S;
  • Ugalde, Juan A;
  • Mullane, Kelli K;
  • Chastain, Roger A;
  • Yayanos, A Aristides;
  • Kusube, Masataka;
  • Methé, Barbara A;
  • Bartlett, Douglas H
  • et al.


The deep ocean is characterized by low temperatures, high hydrostatic pressures, and low concentrations of organic matter. While these conditions likely select for distinct genomic characteristics within prokaryotes, the attributes facilitating adaptation to the deep ocean are relatively unexplored. In this study, we compared the genomes of seven strains within the genus Colwellia, including some of the most piezophilic microbes known, to identify genomic features that enable life in the deep sea.


Significant differences were found to exist between piezophilic and non-piezophilic strains of Colwellia. Piezophilic Colwellia have a more basic and hydrophobic proteome. The piezophilic abyssal and hadal isolates have more genes involved in replication/recombination/repair, cell wall/membrane biogenesis, and cell motility. The characteristics of respiration, pilus generation, and membrane fluidity adjustment vary between the strains, with operons for a nuo dehydrogenase and a tad pilus only present in the piezophiles. In contrast, the piezosensitive members are unique in having the capacity for dissimilatory nitrite and TMAO reduction. A number of genes exist only within deep-sea adapted species, such as those encoding d-alanine-d-alanine ligase for peptidoglycan formation, alanine dehydrogenase for NADH/NAD+ homeostasis, and a SAM methyltransferase for tRNA modification. Many of these piezophile-specific genes are in variable regions of the genome near genomic islands, transposases, and toxin-antitoxin systems.


We identified a number of adaptations that may facilitate deep-sea radiation in members of the genus Colwellia, as well as in other piezophilic bacteria. An enrichment in more basic and hydrophobic amino acids could help piezophiles stabilize and limit water intrusion into proteins as a result of high pressure. Variations in genes associated with the membrane, including those involved in unsaturated fatty acid production and respiration, indicate that membrane-based adaptations are critical for coping with high pressure. The presence of many piezophile-specific genes near genomic islands highlights that adaptation to the deep ocean may be facilitated by horizontal gene transfer through transposases or other mobile elements. Some of these genes are amenable to further study in genetically tractable piezophilic and piezotolerant deep-sea microorganisms.

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