Prevalence of highly host-specific cyanophages in the estuarine environment

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SummaryCyanophages that infect coastal and oceanic Synechococcus have been studied extensively. However, no cyanophages infecting estuarine Synechococcus have been reported. In this study, seven cyanophages (three podoviruses, three siphoviruses and one myovirus) isolated from four estuarine Synechococcus strains were characterized in terms of their morphology, host range, growth and genetic features. All the podoviruses and siphoviruses were highly host specific. For the first time, the photosynthesis gene (psbA) was found in two podoviruses infecting estuarine Synechococcus. However, the psbA gene was not detected in the three siphoviruses. The psbA sequences from the two Synechococcus podoviruses clustered with some environmental psbA sequences, forming a unique cluster distantly related to previous known psbA clusters. Our results suggest that the psbA among Synechococcus podoviruses may evolve independently from the psbA of Synechococcus myoviruses. All three estuarine Synechococcus podoviruses contained the DNA polymerase (pol) gene, and clustered with other podoviruses that infect oceanic Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus, suggesting that the DNA pol is conserved among marine picocyanobacterial podoviruses. Prevalence of host-specific cyanophages in the estuary suggests that Synechococcus and their phages in the estuarine ecosystem may develop a host–phage relationship different from what have been found in the open ocean.

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