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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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.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01933
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