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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2002 Apr 1;40(1):1-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2002.tb00930.x.

Molecular ecology of the marine cyanobacterial genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.


Oxygenic photoautotrophs of the genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus contribute significantly to primary production and are now widely accepted as the most abundant members of the picophytoplankton in the world's oceans. Since they represent one of the few cultured and representative groups of marine microorganisms, study of their physiology and biochemistry has progressed rapidly since their discovery. The recent and on-going sequencing of the complete genomes of representative strains will further hasten our understanding, and allow a complete interrogation, of the metabolism of these organisms. Moreover, since they inhabit a relatively simple environment they provide an excellent model system to begin to identify the underlying molecular mechanisms which allow their success in water columns with large vertical gradients of light and nutrients. Such work should provide novel insights into the genetic adaptations of these important marine microbes to their environment. We review here molecular ecological methods that are already available or which are currently being developed for these organisms. Such methods allow community structure, growth rate and nutrient status analysis, potentially at the single cell level, and can be used to define the niches, or identify the biotic or abiotic factors, which might control the productivity of specific genotypes. These techniques will undoubtedly provide the tools for answering more discerning questions concerning their ecology. How the complete genome sequence information is providing insights, and can further facilitate our understanding, of the ecology of these organisms is also discussed.

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