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J Bacteriol. 1999 Jan;181(2):610-7.

A polypeptide with similarity to phycocyanin alpha-subunit phycocyanobilin lyase involved in degradation of phycobilisomes.

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Department of Plant Biology, The Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


To optimize the utilization of photosynthate and avoid damage that can result from the absorption of excess excitation energy, photosynthetic organisms must rapidly modify the synthesis and activities of components of the photosynthetic apparatus in response to environmental cues. During nutrient-limited growth, cyanobacteria degrade their light-harvesting complex, the phycobilisome, and dramatically reduce the rate of photosynthetic electron transport. In this report, we describe the isolation and characterization of a cyanobacterial mutant that does not degrade its phycobilisomes during either sulfur or nitrogen limitation and exhibits an increased ratio of phycocyanin to chlorophyll during nutrient-replete growth. The mutant phenotype was complemented by a gene encoding a polypeptide with similarities to polypeptides that catalyze covalent bond formation between linear tetrapyrrole chromophores and subunits of apophycobiliproteins. The complementing gene, designated nblB, is expressed at approximately the same level in cells grown in nutrient-replete medium and medium devoid of either sulfur or nitrogen. These results suggest that the NblB polypeptide may be a constitutive part of the machinery that coordinates phycobilisome degradation with environmental conditions.

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