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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Genomic islands predict functional adaptation in marine actinobacteria


Linking functional traits to bacterial phylogeny remains a fundamental but elusive goal of microbial ecology 1. Without this information, it becomes impossible to resolve meaningful units of diversity and the mechanisms by which bacteria interact with each other and adapt to environmental change. Ecological adaptations among bacterial populations have been linked to genomic islands, strain-specific regions of DNA that house functionally adaptive traits 2. In the case of environmental bacteria, these traits are largely inferred from bioinformatic or gene expression analyses 2, thus leaving few examples in which the functions of island genes have been experimentally characterized. Here we report the complete genome sequences of Salinispora tropica and S. arenicola, the first cultured, obligate marine Actinobacteria 3. These two species inhabit benthic marine environments and dedicate 8-10percent of their genomes to the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites. Despite a close phylogenetic relationship, 25 of 37 secondary metabolic pathways are species-specific and located within 21 genomic islands, thus providing new evidence linking secondary metabolism to ecological adaptation. Species-specific differences are also observed in CRISPR sequences, suggesting that variations in phage immunity provide fitness advantages that contribute to the cosmopolitan distribution of S. arenicola 4. The two Salinispora genomes have evolved by complex processes that include the duplication and acquisition of secondary metabolite genes, the products of which provide immediate opportunities for molecular diversification and ecological adaptation. Evidence that secondary metabolic pathways are exchanged by Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) yet are fixed among globally distributed populations 5 supports a functional role for their products and suggests that pathway acquisition represents a previously unrecognized force driving bacterial diversification

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