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ISME J. 2012 Jan;6(1):71-80. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.72. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

The significance of nitrogen cost minimization in proteomes of marine microorganisms.

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Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV, USA.


Marine microorganisms thrive under low levels of nitrogen (N). N cost minimization is a major selective pressure imprinted on open-ocean microorganism genomes. Here we show that amino-acid sequences from the open ocean are reduced in N, but increased in average mass compared with coastal-ocean microorganisms. Nutrient limitation exerts significant pressure on organisms supporting the trade-off between N cost minimization and increased average mass of amino acids that is a function of increased A+T codon usage. N cost minimization, especially of highly expressed proteins, reduces the total cellular N budget by 2.7-10%; this minimization in combination with reduction in genome size and cell size is an evolutionary adaptation to nutrient limitation. The biogeochemical and evolutionary precedent for these findings suggests that N limitation is a stronger selective force in the ocean than biosynthetic costs and is an important evolutionary strategy in resource-limited ecosystems.

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