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Open Access Research article

Computational prediction of Pho regulons in cyanobacteria

Zhengchang Su1, Victor Olman2 and Ying Xu2*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Research Center and Department of Computer Science, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28233, USA

2 Computational Systems Biology Laboratory, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:156  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-156

Published: 8 June 2007

Abstract

Background

Phosphorus is an essential element for all life forms. However, it is limiting in most ecological environments where cyanobacteria inhabit. Elucidation of the phosphorus assimilation pathways in cyanobacteria will further our understanding of the physiology and ecology of this important group of microorganisms. However, a systematic study of the Pho regulon, the core of the phosphorus assimilation pathway in a cyanobacterium, is hitherto lacking.

Results

We have predicted and analyzed the Pho regulons in 19 sequenced cyanobacterial genomes using a highly effective scanning algorithm that we have previously developed. Our results show that different cyanobacterial species/ecotypes may encode diverse sets of genes responsible for the utilization of various sources of phosphorus, ranging from inorganic phosphate, phosphodiester, to phosphonates. Unlike in E. coli, some cyanobacterial genes that are directly involved in phosphorus assimilation seem to not be under the regulation of the regulator SphR (orthologue of PhoB in E coli.) in some species/ecotypes. On the other hand, SphR binding sites are found for genes known to play important roles in other biological processes. These genes might serve as bridging points to coordinate the phosphorus assimilation and other biological processes. More interestingly, in three cyanobacterial genomes where no sphR gene is encoded, our results show that there is virtually no functional SphR binding site, suggesting that transcription regulators probably play an important role in retaining their binding sites.

Conclusion

The Pho regulons in cyanobacteria are highly diversified to accommodate to their respective living environments. The phosphorus assimilation pathways in cyanobacteria are probably tightly coupled to a number of other important biological processes. The loss of a regulator may lead to the rapid loss of its binding sites in a genome.