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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Comparative genomics reveals evidence of marine adaptation in Salinispora species

Kevin Penn and Paul R Jensen*

Author Affiliations

Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, 92093-0204, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:86  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-86

Published: 8 March 2012



Actinobacteria represent a consistent component of most marine bacterial communities yet little is known about the mechanisms by which these Gram-positive bacteria adapt to life in the marine environment. Here we employed a phylogenomic approach to identify marine adaptation genes in marine Actinobacteria. The focus was on the obligate marine actinomycete genus Salinispora and the identification of marine adaptation genes that have been acquired from other marine bacteria.


Functional annotation, comparative genomics, and evidence of a shared evolutionary history with bacteria from hyperosmotic environments were used to identify a pool of more than 50 marine adaptation genes. An Actinobacterial species tree was used to infer the likelihood of gene gain or loss in accounting for the distribution of each gene. Acquired marine adaptation genes were associated with electron transport, sodium and ABC transporters, and channels and pores. In addition, the loss of a mechanosensitive channel gene appears to have played a major role in the inability of Salinispora strains to grow following transfer to low osmotic strength media.


The marine Actinobacteria for which genome sequences are available are broadly distributed throughout the Actinobacterial phylogenetic tree and closely related to non-marine forms suggesting they have been independently introduced relatively recently into the marine environment. It appears that the acquisition of transporters in Salinispora spp. represents a major marine adaptation while gene loss is proposed to play a role in the inability of this genus to survive outside of the marine environment. This study reveals fundamental differences between marine adaptations in Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and no common genetic basis for marine adaptation among the Actinobacteria analyzed.