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Concept: Cyanobacteria


The ~1.6 Ga Tirohan Dolomite of the Lower Vindhyan in central India contains phosphatized stromatolitic microbialites. We report from there uniquely well-preserved fossils interpreted as probable crown-group rhodophytes (red algae). The filamentous form Rafatazmia chitrakootensis n. gen, n. sp. has uniserial rows of large cells and grows through diffusely distributed septation. Each cell has a centrally suspended, conspicuous rhomboidal disk interpreted as a pyrenoid. The septa between the cells have central structures that may represent pit connections and pit plugs. Another filamentous form, Denaricion mendax n. gen., n. sp., has coin-like cells reminiscent of those in large sulfur-oxidizing bacteria but much more recalcitrant than the liquid-vacuole-filled cells of the latter. There are also resemblances with oscillatoriacean cyanobacteria, although cell volumes in the latter are much smaller. The wider affinities of Denaricion are uncertain. Ramathallus lobatus n. gen., n. sp. is a lobate sessile alga with pseudoparenchymatous thallus, “cell fountains,” and apical growth, suggesting florideophycean affinity. If these inferences are correct, Rafatazmia and Ramathallus represent crown-group multicellular rhodophytes, antedating the oldest previously accepted red alga in the fossil record by about 400 million years.

Concepts: Brown algae, Bacteria, Plastid, Cell wall, Plant, Algae, Cyanobacteria, Red algae


Bacterial phototaxis was first recognized over a century ago, but the method by which such small cells can sense the direction of illumination has remained puzzling. The unicellular cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 moves with Type IV pili and measures light intensity and color with a range of photoreceptors. Here, we show that individual Synechocystis cells do not respond to a spatiotemporal gradient in light intensity, but rather they directly and accurately sense the position of a light source. We show that directional light sensing is possible because Synechocystis cells act as spherical microlenses, allowing the cell to see a light source and move towards it. A high-resolution image of the light source is focused on the edge of the cell opposite to the source, triggering movement away from the focused spot. Spherical cyanobacteria are probably the world’s smallest and oldest example of a camera eye.

Concepts: Light, Organism, Pilus, Synechocystis, DNA, Archaea, Cyanobacteria, Bacteria


Based on previous comparative genomic analyses, a set of nearly 600 polypeptides, of which ~300 have unknown physiological function, was identified that is present in green algae and flowering and nonflowering plants, but not present (or highly diverged) in non-photosynthetic organisms. The gene encoding one of these GreenCut proteins, CPLD38, is in the same operon as ndhL in most cyanobacteria; NdhL is part of a complex essential for cyanobacterial respiration. A cpld38 mutant of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii did not grow on minimal medium, was high light sensitive under photoheterotrophic conditions, had lower accumulation of photosynthetic complexes, reduced photosynthetic electron flow to P700+, and reduced photochemical efficiency of photosystem II; these phenotypes were rescued by a wild-type copy of CPLD38. Biophysical and biochemical analyses demonstrated that cytochrome b6f function was severely compromised, and levels of transcripts and polypeptide subunits associated with the cytochrome b6f complex were also significantly lower in the mutant; the subunits of the cytochrome b6f complex turned over much more rapidly in mutant than in wild-type cells. Interestingly, PTOX2 and NDA2, two major proteins involved in chlororespiration, were more than 5-fold higher in mutant relative to wild-type cells, suggesting a shift from photosynthesis toward chlororespiratory metabolism in mutant cells, which is supported by experiments that quantify the reduction state of the plastoquinone pool. These findings support the hypothesis that CPLD38 impacts the stability of the cytochrome b6f complex and may play a key role in balancing redox inputs to the quinone pool from photosynthesis and chlororespiration.

Concepts: Protein, Carbon dioxide, Plastocyanin, Cyanobacteria, Plastoquinone, Gene, Photosystem, Photosynthesis


Iron is an essential component in many protein complexes involved in photosynthesis, but environmental iron availability is often low as oxidized forms of iron are insoluble in water. To adjust to low environmental iron levels, cyanobacteria undergo numerous changes to balance their iron budget and mitigate the physiological effects of iron depletion. We investigated changes in key protein abundances and photophysiological parameters in the model cyanobacteria Synechococcus PCC 7942 and Synechocystis PCC 6803 over a 120 hour time course of iron deprivation. The iron stress induced protein (IsiA) accumulated to high levels within 48 h of the onset of iron deprivation, reaching a molar ratio of ∼42 IsiA : Photosystem I in Synechococcus PCC 7942 and ∼12 IsiA : Photosystem I in Synechocystis PCC 6803. Concomitantly the iron-rich complexes Cytochrome b6f and Photosystem I declined in abundance, leading to a decrease in the Photosystem I : Photosystem II ratio. Chlorophyll fluorescence analyses showed a drop in electron transport per Photosystem II in Synechococcus, but not in Synechocystis after iron depletion. We found no evidence that the accumulated IsiA contributes to light capture by Photosystem II complexes.

Concepts: Iron, Light reactions, Plastocyanin, Carbon dioxide, Oxygen, Cyanobacteria, Photosystem, Photosynthesis


Cyanobacteria-plant symbioses play an important role in many ecosystems due to the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen (N) by the cyanobacterial symbiont. The ubiquitous feather moss Pleurozium schreberi (Brid.) Mitt. is colonized by cyanobacteria in boreal systems with low N deposition. Here, cyanobacteria fix substantial amounts of N2 and represent a potential N source. The feather moss appears to be resistant to decomposition, which could be partly a result of toxins produced by cyanobacteria. To assess how cyanobacteria modulated the toxicity of moss, we measured inhibition of bacterial growth. Moss with varying numbers of cyanobacteria was added to soil bacteria to test the inhibition of their growth using the thymidine incorporation technique. Moss could universally inhibit bacterial growth, but moss toxicity did not increase with N2 fixation rates (numbers of cyanobacteria). Instead, we see evidence for a negative relationship between moss toxicity to bacteria and N2 fixation, which could be related to the ecological mechanisms that govern the cyanobacteria - moss relationship. We conclude that cyanobacteria associated with moss do not contribute to the resistance to decomposition of moss, and from our results emerges the question as to what type of relationship the moss and cyanobacteria share.

Concepts: Oxygen, Plant, Cyanobacteria, Symbiosis, Evolution, Mosses, Nitrogen, Bacteria


In 2011, Lake Erie experienced the largest harmful algal bloom in its recorded history, with a peak intensity over three times greater than any previously observed bloom. Here we show that long-term trends in agricultural practices are consistent with increasing phosphorus loading to the western basin of the lake, and that these trends, coupled with meteorological conditions in spring 2011, produced record-breaking nutrient loads. An extended period of weak lake circulation then led to abnormally long residence times that incubated the bloom, and warm and quiescent conditions after bloom onset allowed algae to remain near the top of the water column and prevented flushing of nutrients from the system. We further find that all of these factors are consistent with expected future conditions. If a scientifically guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie.

Concepts: Time, Water, Dinoflagellate, Phosphorus, Cyanobacteria, Algae, Algal bloom, Eutrophication


Complete structural elucidation of natural products is often challenging due to structural complexity and limited availability. This is true for present-day secondary metabolites, but even more for exceptionally preserved secondary metabolites of ancient organisms that potentially provide insights into the evolutionary history of natural products. Here we report the full structure and absolute configuration of the borolithochromes, enigmatic boron-containing pigments from a Jurassic putative red alga, from samples of less than 50 µg using microcryoprobe NMR, CD spectroscopy, and DFT calculations, and reveal their polyke-tide origin. The pigments are identified as spiroborates with two pentacyclic sec-butyl-trihydroxy-methyl-benzo[gh]tetraphen-one ligands and less substituted deriva-tives. The configuration of the sec-butyl group is found to be (S). Because the exceptional benzo[gh]tetraphene scaffold is otherwise only observed in the recently discovered polyke-tide clostrubin from a present-day Clostridium bacterium, the Jurassic borolithochromes now can be unambiguously linked to the modern polyketide, providing evidence that the fossil pigments are almost originally preserved secondary metabolites and suggesting that the pigments in fact may have been produced by an ancient bacterium. The borolithochromes differ fundamentally from previously described boronated polyketides and represent the first boronated aromatic polyketides found so far. Our results demonstrate the potential of microcryoprobe NMR in the analysis of previously little-explored secondary metabolites from ancient organisms and reveal the evolutionary significance of clostrubin-type polyketides.

Concepts: Organism, Cyanobacteria, Bacteria, DNA, Photosynthesis, Fungus, Evolution, Metabolism


The Great Oxidation Event signals the first large-scale oxygenation of the atmosphere roughly 2.4 Gyr ago. Geochemical signals diagnostic of oxidative weathering, however, extend as far back as 3.3-2.9 Gyr ago. 3.8-3.7 Gyr old rocks from Isua, Greenland stand as a deep time outpost, recording information on Earth’s earliest surface chemistry and the low oxygen primordial biosphere. Here we find fractionated Cr isotopes, relative to the igneous silicate Earth reservoir, in metamorphosed banded iron formations (BIFs) from Isua that indicate oxidative Cr cycling 3.8-3.7 Gyr ago. Elevated U/Th ratios in these BIFs relative to the contemporary crust, also signal oxidative mobilization of U. We suggest that reactive oxygen species were present in the Eoarchean surface environment, under a very low oxygen atmosphere, inducing oxidative elemental cycling during the deposition of the Isua BIFs and possibly supporting early aerobic biology.

Concepts: Cyanobacteria, Oxidative phosphorylation, Hydrogen peroxide, Aluminium, Photosynthesis, Iron, Earth, Oxygen


Braarudosphaera bigelowii (Prymnesiophyceae) is a coastal coccolithophore with a long fossil record, extending back to the late Cretaceous (ca. 100 Ma). A recent study revealed close phylogenetic relationships between B. bigelowii, Chrysochromulina parkeae (Prymnesiophyceae), and a prymnesiophyte that forms a symbiotic association with the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium UCYN-A. In order to further examine these relationships, we conducted transmission electron microscopic and molecular phylogenetic studies of B. bigelowii. TEM studies showed that, in addition to organelles, such as the nucleus, chloroplasts and mitochondria, B. bigelowii contains one or two spheroid bodies with internal lamellae. In the 18S rDNA tree of the Prymnesiophyceae, C. parkeae fell within the B. bigelowii clade, and was close to B. bigelowii Genotype III (99.89% similarity). Plastid 16S rDNA sequences obtained from B. bigelowii were close to the unidentified sequences from the oligotrophic SE Pacific Ocean (e.g. HM133411) (99.86% similarity). Bacterial16S rDNA sequences obtained from B. bigelowii were identical to the UCYN-A sequence AY621693 from Arabian Sea, and fell in the UCYN-A clade. From these results, we suggest that; 1) C. parkeae is the alternate life cycle stage of B. bigelowii sensu stricto or that of a sibling species of B. bigelowii, and 2) the spheroid body of B. bigelowii originated from endosymbiosis of the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium UCYN-A.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Endosymbiont, DNA, Cyanobacteria, Organelle, Endosymbiotic theory, Phylogenetics, Evolution


Arboreal herbivory is rare among mammals. The few species with this lifestyle possess unique adaptions to overcome size-related constraints on nutritional energetics. Sloths are folivores that spend most of their time resting or eating in the forest canopy. A three-toed sloth will, however, descend its tree weekly to defecate, which is risky, energetically costly and, until now, inexplicable. We hypothesized that this behaviour sustains an ecosystem in the fur of sloths, which confers cryptic nutritional benefits to sloths. We found that the more specialized three-toed sloths harboured more phoretic moths, greater concentrations of inorganic nitrogen and higher algal biomass than the generalist two-toed sloths. Moth density was positively related to inorganic nitrogen concentration and algal biomass in the fur. We discovered that sloths consumed algae from their fur, which was highly digestible and lipid-rich. By descending a tree to defecate, sloths transport moths to their oviposition sites in sloth dung, which facilitates moth colonization of sloth fur. Moths are portals for nutrients, increasing nitrogen levels in sloth fur, which fuels algal growth. Sloths consume these algae-gardens, presumably to augment their limited diet. These linked mutualisms between moths, sloths and algae appear to aid the sloth in overcoming a highly constrained lifestyle.

Concepts: Pale-throated Sloth, Two-toed sloth, Cyanobacteria, Pilosans, Linnaeus's Two-toed Sloth, Three-toed sloth, Mammal, Sloth