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ISME J. 2012 Feb;6(2):422-9. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.115. Epub 2011 Sep 8.

Quorum sensing control of phosphorus acquisition in Trichodesmium consortia.

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Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.


Colonies of the cyanobacterium Trichodesmium are abundant in the oligotrophic ocean, and through their ability to fix both CO(2) and N(2), have pivotal roles in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in these highly nutrient-depleted environments. Trichodesmium colonies host complex consortia of epibiotic heterotrophic bacteria, and yet, the regulation of nutrient acquisition by these epibionts is poorly understood. We present evidence that epibiotic bacteria in Trichodesmium consortia use quorum sensing (QS) to regulate the activity of alkaline phosphatases (APases), enzymes used by epibionts in the acquisition of phosphate from dissolved-organic phosphorus molecules. A class of QS molecules, acylated homoserine lactones (AHLs), were produced by cultivated epibionts, and adding these AHLs to wild Trichodesmium colonies collected at sea led to a consistent doubling of APase activity. By contrast, amendments of (S)-4,5-dihydroxy-2,3-pentanedione (DPD)-the precursor to the autoinducer-2 (AI-2) family of universal interspecies signaling molecules-led to the attenuation of APase activity. In addition, colonies collected at sea were found by high performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry to contain both AHLs and AI-2. Both types of molecules turned over rapidly, an observation we ascribe to quorum quenching. Our results reveal a complex chemical interplay among epibionts using AHLs and AI-2 to control access to phosphate in dissolved-organic phosphorus.

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