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Environ Microbiol. 2009 Sep;11(9):2400-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2009.01968.x. Epub 2009 Jun 25.

Molecular analysis of the phosphorus starvation response in Trichodesmium spp.

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Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.


The marine diazotroph Trichodesmium is a major contributor to primary production and nitrogen fixation in the tropical and subtropical oceans. These regions are often characterized by low phosphorus (P) concentrations, and P starvation of Trichodesmium could limit growth, and potentially constrain nitrogen fixation. To better understand how this genus responds to P starvation we examined four genes involved in P acquisition: two copies of a high-affinity phosphate binding protein (pstS and sphX) and two putative alkaline phosphatases (phoA and phoX). Sequence analysis of these genes among cultured species of Trichodesmium (T. tenue, T. erythraeum, T. thiebautii and T. spiralis) showed that they all are present and conserved within the genus. In T. erythraeum IMS101, the expression of sphX, phoA and phoX were sensitive to P supply whereas pstS was not. The induction of alkaline phosphatase activity corresponded with phoA and phoX expression, but enzyme activity persisted after the expression of these genes returned to basal levels. Additionally, nifH (nitrogenase reductase; involved in nitrogen fixation) expression was downregulated under P starvation conditions. These data highlight molecular level responses to low P and lay a foundation for better understanding the dynamics of Trichodesmium P physiology in low-P environments.

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