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Nature. 2003 Aug 28;424(6952):1051-4.

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

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Wolfson Laboratories, Biochemistry Building, Department of Biological Sciences, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


Prochlorococcus, the most abundant genus of photosynthetic organisms, owes its remarkably large depth distribution in the oceans to the occurrence of distinct genotypes adapted to either low- or high-light niches. The pcb genes, encoding the major chlorophyll-binding, light-harvesting antenna proteins in this genus, are present in multiple copies in low-light strains but as a single copy in high-light strains. 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 cyanobacteria--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 algae.

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