Diversity of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus populations determined from DNA sequences of the N-regulatory gene ntcA

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SummaryThe cyanobacteria Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus are abundant primary producers in the nitrogen-poor waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, northern Red Sea. Expression of the nitrogen regulatory gene ntcA is a useful indicator for determining the N-status of cyanobacteria, and preliminary work with this gene suggests that it may also serve as a useful biodiversity marker. Here we investigated the genotypic diversity of ntcA among the full spectrum of cultured Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus lineages and assessed cyanobacterial genotypic composition in environmental samples from the Gulf of Aqaba. The high level of ntcA diversification established this gene as an excellent biodiversity marker capable of distinguishing between numerous clades within each genus with high resolution. An unexpected large diversity was observed among Synechococcus populations, including the detection of four novel clades for which culture representatives have yet to be isolated. In addition, extensive microdiversity within a number of Synechococcus clades was revealed. Temporal differences in the detection of the various Synechococcus clades suggest seasonal fluctuations in the genotypic make-up of Synechococcus populations. In contrast, virtually all Prochlorococcus sequences fell within a single high-light adapted clade that was detected year round. We suggest that the limited genotypic diversity among Prochlorococcus in combination with a limited capacity for acclimation to environmental changes resulting from its small genome size led to the dramatic rise and demise of Prochlorococcus populations over the yearly cycle in the Gulf of Aqaba.

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