Self-regulating genomic island encoding tandem regulators confers chromatic acclimation to marine synechococcus

Joseph E. Sanfilippo, Adam A. Nguyen, Jonathan A. Karty, Animesh Shukla, Wendy M. Schluchter, Laurence Garczarek, Frédéric Partensky, David M. Kehoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolutionary success of marine Synechococcus, the secondmost abundant phototrophic group in the marine environment, is partly attributable to this group's ability to use the entire visible spectrum of light for photosynthesis. This group possesses a remarkable diversity of light-harvesting pigments, and most of the group's members are orange and pink because of their use of phycourobilin and phycoerythrobilin chromophores, which are attached to antennae proteins called phycoerythrins. Many strains can alter phycoerythrin chromophore ratios to optimize photon capture in changing blue-green environments using type IV chromatic acclimation (CA4). Although CA4 is common in most marine Synechococcus lineages, the regulation of this process remains unexplored. Here, we show that a widely distributed genomic island encoding tandem master regulators named FciA (for type four chromatic acclimation island) and FciB plays a central role in controlling CA4. FciA and FciB have diametric effects on CA4. Interruption of fciA causes a constitutive green light phenotype, and interruption of fciB causes a constitutive blue light phenotype. These proteins regulate all of the molecular responses occurring during CA4, and the proteins' activity is apparently regulated posttranscriptionally, although their cellular ratio appears to be critical for establishing the set point for the blue-green switch in ecologically relevant light environments. Surprisingly, FciA and FciB coregulate only three genes within the Synechococcus genome, all located within the same genomic island as fciA and fciB. These findings, along with the widespread distribution of strains possessing this island, suggest that horizontal transfer of a small, self-regulating DNA region has conferred CA4 capability to marine Synechococcus throughout many oceanic areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6077-6082
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 24 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Light regulation
  • Marine biology
  • Marine cyanobacteria
  • Phycobilisome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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