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MBio. 2015 Jun 2;6(3):e00391-15. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00391-15.

Lifestyle evolution in cyanobacterial symbionts of sponges.

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Department of Marine Biology, Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel.
Department of Botany II, Julius-von-Sachs Institute for Biosciences, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.
Department of Ecology and Evolution, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Bioinformatics and System Biology Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Giessen, Germany.
Argonne National Laboratory, Institute for Genomic and Systems Biology, Argonne, Illinois, USA.
Department of Marine Biology, Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel


The "Candidatus Synechococcus spongiarum" group includes different clades of cyanobacteria with high 16S rRNA sequence identity (~99%) and is the most abundant and widespread cyanobacterial symbiont of marine sponges. The first draft genome of a "Ca. Synechococcus spongiarum" group member was recently published, providing evidence of genome reduction by loss of genes involved in several nonessential functions. However, "Ca. Synechococcus spongiarum" includes a variety of clades that may differ widely in genomic repertoire and consequently in physiology and symbiotic function. Here, we present three additional draft genomes of "Ca. Synechococcus spongiarum," each from a different clade. By comparing all four symbiont genomes to those of free-living cyanobacteria, we revealed general adaptations to life inside sponges and specific adaptations of each phylotype. Symbiont genomes shared about half of their total number of coding genes. Common traits of "Ca. Synechococcus spongiarum" members were a high abundance of DNA modification and recombination genes and a reduction in genes involved in inorganic ion transport and metabolism, cell wall biogenesis, and signal transduction mechanisms. Moreover, these symbionts were characterized by a reduced number of antioxidant enzymes and low-weight peptides of photosystem II compared to their free-living relatives. Variability within the "Ca. Synechococcus spongiarum" group was mostly related to immune system features, potential for siderophore-mediated iron transport, and dependency on methionine from external sources. The common absence of genes involved in synthesis of residues, typical of the O antigen of free-living Synechococcus species, suggests a novel mechanism utilized by these symbionts to avoid sponge predation and phage attack.


While the Synechococcus/Prochlorococcus-type cyanobacteria are widely distributed in the world's oceans, a subgroup has established its niche within marine sponge tissues. Recently, the first genome of sponge-associated cyanobacteria, "Candidatus Synechococcus spongiarum," was described. The sequencing of three representatives of different clades within this cyanobacterial group has enabled us to investigate intraspecies diversity, as well as to give a more comprehensive understanding of the common symbiotic features that adapt "Ca. Synechococcus spongiarum" to its life within the sponge host.

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