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ISME J. 2007 Aug;1(4):361-71. Epub 2007 Jul 5.

Improvements of high-throughput culturing yielded novel SAR11 strains and other abundant marine bacteria from the Oregon coast and the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series study site.

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Department of Microbiology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.


The introduction of high-throughput dilution-to-extinction culturing (HTC) of marine bacterioplankton using sterilized natural sea water as media yielded isolates of many abundant but previously uncultured marine bacterial clades. In early experiments, bacteria from the SAR11 cluster (class Alphaproteobacteria), which are presumed to be the most abundant prokaryotes on earth, were cultured. Although many additional attempts were made, no further strains of the SAR11 clade were obtained. Here, we describe improvements to the HTC technique, which led to the isolation of 17 new SAR11 strains from the Oregon coast and the Sargasso Sea, accounting for 28% and 31% of all isolates in these experiments. Phylogenetic analysis of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region showed that the isolates from the Oregon coast represent three different subclusters of SAR11, while isolates from the Sargasso Sea were more uniform and represented a single ITS cluster. A PCR assay proved the presence of proteorhodopsin (PR) in nearly all SAR11 isolates. Analysis of PR amino-acid sequences indicated that isolates from the Oregon coast were tuned to either green or blue light, while PRs from strains obtained from the Sargasso Sea were exclusively tuned to maximum absorbance in the blue. Interestingly, phylogenies based on PR and ITS did not correlate, suggesting lateral gene transfer. In addition to the new SAR11 strains, many novel strains belonging to clusters of previously uncultured or undescribed species of different bacterial phyla, including the first strain of the highly abundant alphaproteobacterial SAR116 clade, were isolated using the modified methods.

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