Systems Biology and Ecology of Streamlined Bacterioplankton
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:00 AM
The salient feature of streamlined cells is their small genome size, but “streamlining” refers more generally to selection that favors minimization of cell size and complexity. The essence of streamlining theory is that selection is most efficient in organisms that have large effective population sizes, and, in nutrient-limited systems, favors cell architecture that minimizes resources required for replication. Regardless of the cause of genome reduction, lost coding potential eventually dictates loss of function, raising the questions, what genome features are expendable, and how do cells become highly successful with a minimal genomic repertoire? One consequence of reductive evolution in streamlined organisms is atypical patterns of prototrophy, for example the recent discovery of a requirement for the thiamin precursor 4-amino-5-hydroxymethyl-2-methylpyrimidine in some plankton taxa. Examples such as this fit within the framework of the Black Queen Hypothesis, which describes genome reduction that results in reliance on community goods and increased community connectivity. Other examples of genome reduction include losses of regulatory functions, or replacement with simpler regulatory systems, and increased metabolic integration. In one such case, in the order Pelagibacterales, the PII system for regulating responses to N limitation has been replaced with a simpler system composed of fewer genes. Both the absence of common regulatory systems and atypical patterns of prototrophy have been linked to difficulty in culturing Pelagibacterales, lending credibility to the idea that streamlining might broadly explain the phenomenon of the uncultured microbial majority. The success of streamlined osmotrophic bacterioplankton suggests that they successfully compete for labile organic matter and capture a large share of this resource, but an alternative theory postulates they are not good resource competitors and instead prosper by avoiding predation. The answers to these complex questions hinge on translating gene frequencies into trait based ecological models that reflect the systems biology of cells.