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Low-light-adapted Prochlorococcus species possess specific antennae for each photosystem


Prochlorococcus, the most abundant genus of photosynthetic organisms1, owes its remarkably large depth distribution in the oceans to the occurrence of distinct genotypes adapted to either low- or high-light niches2,3. The pcb genes, encoding the major chlorophyll-binding, light-harvesting antenna proteins in this genus4, are present in multiple copies in low-light strains but as a single copy in high-light strains5. The basis of this differentiation, however, has remained obscure. Here we show that the moderate low-light-adapted strain Prochlorococcus sp. MIT 9313 has one iron-stress-induced pcb gene encoding an antenna protein serving photosystem I (PSI)—comparable to isiA genes from cyanobacteria6,7—and a constitutively expressed pcb gene encoding a photosystem II (PSII) antenna protein. By comparison, the very low-light-adapted strain SS120 has seven pcb genes encoding constitutive PSI and PSII antennae, plus one PSI iron-regulated pcb gene, whereas the high-light-adapted strain MED4 has only a constitutive PSII antenna. Thus, it seems that the adaptation of Prochlorococcus to low light environments has triggered a multiplication and specialization of Pcb proteins comparable to that found for Cab proteins in plants and green algae8.

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Figure 1: Characteristic top view of negatively stained particles isolated from Prochlorococcus MIT 9313.
Figure 2: Electron micrographs of particles isolated from Prochlorococcus MIT 9313 separated on sucrose density gradients.
Figure 3: SDS–PAGE (left panel) and western-blot analyses (right panel) of thylakoid membranes isolated from Prochlorococcus MIT 9313 cells grown in the presence (+ Fe) and absence (- Fe) of iron.


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J.B. thanks the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council for financial support. J.N. holds a University Research Fellowship of The Royal Society. F.P. and I.M. were supported by the EU FPS program Margenes, and I.M. was awarded a Ph.D. grant from Région Bretagne. We thank F. Le Gall for preparing large volumes of Prochlorococcus cultures.

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Correspondence to J. Barber.

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Bibby, T., Mary, I., Nield, J. et al. Low-light-adapted Prochlorococcus species possess specific antennae for each photosystem. Nature 424, 1051–1054 (2003).

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