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Photoheterotrophic microbes, such as proteorhodopsin (PR)-based phototrophic (PRP) and aerobic anoxygenic phototrophic (AAP) bacteria, are well known to be abundant in the oceans, potentially playing unique roles in biogeochemical cycles. However, the contribution of phototrophy to the energy requirements of these bacteria has not been quantitatively examined to date. To better understand the implications of photoheterophy in the oceans, we calculated energy benefits and costs of phototrophy and compared net benefits with maintenance costs. Benefits depend on the number of photosynthetic units (PSUs), absorption cross-section area of each PSU as function of wavelength, the in situ light quality, and the energy yield per absorbed photon. For costs we considered the energy required for the synthesis of pigments, amino acids and proteins in each PSU. Our calculations indicate that AAP bacteria harvest more light energy than do PRP bacteria, but the costs of phototrophy are much higher for AAP bacteria. Still, the net energy gained by AAP bacteria is often sufficient to meet maintenance costs, while that is not the case for PRP bacteria except with high light intensities and large numbers of proteorhodopsin molecules per cell. The low costs and simplicity of PR-based phototrophy explain the high abundance of proteorhodopsin genes in the oceans. However, even for AAP bacteria, the net energy yield of phototrophy is apparently too low to influence the distribution of photoheterotrophic bacteria among various marine systems.