Comparative genomics reveals surprising divergence of two closely related strains of uncultivated UCYN-A cyanobacteria

Deniz Bombar, Philip Heller, Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo, Brandon J. Carter, Jonathan P. Zehr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Marine planktonic cyanobacteria capable of fixing molecular nitrogen (termed 'diazotrophs') are key in biogeochemical cycling, and the nitrogen fixed is one of the major external sources of nitrogen to the open ocean. Candidatus Atelocyanobacterium thalassa (UCYN-A) is a diazotrophic cyanobacterium known for its widespread geographic distribution in tropical and subtropical oligotrophic oceans, unusually reduced genome and symbiosis with a single-celled prymnesiophyte alga. Recently a novel strain of this organism was also detected in coastal waters sampled from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography pier. We analyzed the metagenome of this UCYN-A2 population by concentrating cells by flow cytometry. Phylogenomic analysis provided strong bootstrap support for the monophyly of UCYN-A (here called UCYN-A1) and UCYN-A2 within the marine Crocosphaera sp. and Cyanothece sp. clade. UCYN-A2 shares 1159 of the 1200 UCYN-A1 protein-coding genes (96.6%) with high synteny, yet the average amino-acid sequence identity between these orthologs is only 86%. UCYN-A2 lacks the same major pathways and proteins that are absent in UCYN-A1, suggesting that both strains can be grouped at the same functional and ecological level. Our results suggest that UCYN-A1 and UCYN-A2 had a common ancestor and diverged after genome reduction. These two variants may reflect adaptation of the host to different niches, which could be coastal and open ocean habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2530-2542
Number of pages13
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
Early online date16 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014

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