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J Biol Chem. 2013 Mar 8;288(10):7399-409. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.434100. Epub 2013 Jan 15.

Toxin-antitoxin systems on the large defense plasmid pSYSA of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803.

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Faculty of Biology, University of Freiburg, Schänzlestrasse 1, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany.


Bacterial toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are genetic elements, which are encoded by plasmid as well as chromosomal loci and mediate plasmid and genomic island maintenance through post-segregational killing mechanisms. TA systems exist in surprisingly high numbers in all prokaryotes, but cyanobacterial TA systems have been only very poorly experimentally characterized so far. Cyanobacteria are the only prokaryotes that perform oxygenic photosynthesis. As such, cyanobacteria are of high ecological importance and are considered promising for the production of biofuels. Here, we present the molecular characterization of the sll7003/ssl7004 TA system encoded on plasmid pSYSA of the model cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 as involving a Mg(2+)-dependent RNA endonuclease activity targeting single-stranded RNA regions and demonstrate the functionality of four more TA systems encoded on this 100,749-bp plasmid. Furthermore, one additional type I, one additional type II, and three freestanding TA system components are predicted on pSYSA, all of which appear active judged by their expression. By harboring at least seven simultaneously active TA systems, pSYSA appears as the plasmid most strongly selected for among all plasmids studied in this respect thus far. These results point to a high biological relevance of pSYSA, whose coding capacity is 75% devoted to three distinct clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) systems mediating antiviral defense.

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