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ISME J. 2009 Jun;3(6):726-37. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2009.13. Epub 2009 Feb 26.

Actinorhodopsin genes discovered in diverse freshwater habitats and among cultivated freshwater Actinobacteria.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Microbial rhodopsins are membrane proteins that utilize a retinal chromophore to harvest sunlight for energetic and photosensory functions. Recently, a group of novel rhodopsin sequences named 'actinorhodopsins' (ActRs) was hypothesized to exist among uncultured planktonic Actinobacteria. ActRs were discovered by mining metagenomic data obtained during the Venter Institute's Global Ocean Sampling expedition, from a hypersaline lagoon, two estuaries and a freshwater lake. On the basis of these findings, and many studies that show Actinobacteria are common inhabitants of lakes, we predicted that ActR genes would likely be present in other freshwater habitats and among the genomes of cultivated Actinobacteria. Using degenerate polymerase chain reaction primers, we discovered an ActR gene present in an actinobacterial isolate of the family Microbacteriaceae. Isolate MWH-Uga1 was cultivated prior to this study from a freshwater pond in Uganda and belongs to a group of Actinobacteria previously identified in freshwater ecosystems. ActR genes were also discovered present in numerous mixed cultures containing freshwater Actinobacteria and among environmental DNA samples obtained from three freshwater sources; a small woodland pond and the Laurentian Great Lakes Superior and Erie. An analysis of small subunit ribosomal RNA genes from metagenomic DNA samples harboring ActR genes suggests that organisms belonging to the acI lineage, an uncultured group of Actinobacteria commonly present in fresh waters, may utilize rhodopsins. The co-occurrence of an acI organism with a specific ActR variant in a mixed culture supports our hypothesis.

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