Open Access Open Badges Research article

Ultraviolet stress delays chromosome replication in light/dark synchronized cells of the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus marinus PCC9511

Christian Kolowrat12, Frédéric Partensky12*, Daniella Mella-Flores12, Gildas Le Corguillé13, Christophe Boutte12, Nicolas Blot124, Morgane Ratin12, Martial Ferréol5, Xavier Lecomte12, Priscillia Gourvil12, Jean-François Lennon1, David M Kehoe6 and Laurence Garczarek12

Author Affiliations

1 UPMC-Université Paris 06, Station Biologique, Place Georges Teissier, 29680 Roscoff, France

2 CNRS, UMR 7144, Groupe Plancton Océanique, 29680 Roscoff, France

3 CNRS, FR 2424, Service Informatique et Génomique, 29680 Roscoff, France

4 Clermont Université, Université Blaise Pascal, UMR CNRS 6023, Laboratoire Microorganismes: Génome et Environnement, BP 10448, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France

5 CEMAGREF, UR Biologie des Ecosystèmes Aquatiques, Laboratoire d'Hydroécologie Quantitative, 3 bis quai Chauveau, CP 220, 69336 Lyon Cedex 09, France

6 Department of Biology, 1001 East Third Street, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:204  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-204

Published: 29 July 2010



The marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is very abundant in warm, nutrient-poor oceanic areas. The upper mixed layer of oceans is populated by high light-adapted Prochlorococcus ecotypes, which despite their tiny genome (~1.7 Mb) seem to have developed efficient strategies to cope with stressful levels of photosynthetically active and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. At a molecular level, little is known yet about how such minimalist microorganisms manage to sustain high growth rates and avoid potentially detrimental, UV-induced mutations to their DNA. To address this question, we studied the cell cycle dynamics of P. marinus PCC9511 cells grown under high fluxes of visible light in the presence or absence of UV radiation. Near natural light-dark cycles of both light sources were obtained using a custom-designed illumination system (cyclostat). Expression patterns of key DNA synthesis and repair, cell division, and clock genes were analyzed in order to decipher molecular mechanisms of adaptation to UV radiation.


The cell cycle of P. marinus PCC9511 was strongly synchronized by the day-night cycle. The most conspicuous response of cells to UV radiation was a delay in chromosome replication, with a peak of DNA synthesis shifted about 2 h into the dark period. This delay was seemingly linked to a strong downregulation of genes governing DNA replication (dnaA) and cell division (ftsZ, sepF), whereas most genes involved in DNA repair (such as recA, phrA, uvrA, ruvC, umuC) were already activated under high visible light and their expression levels were only slightly affected by additional UV exposure.


Prochlorococcus cells modified the timing of the S phase in response to UV exposure, therefore reducing the risk that mutations would occur during this particularly sensitive stage of the cell cycle. We identified several possible explanations for the observed timeshift. Among these, the sharp decrease in transcript levels of the dnaA gene, encoding the DNA replication initiator protein, is sufficient by itself to explain this response, since DNA synthesis starts only when the cellular concentration of DnaA reaches a critical threshold. However, the observed response likely results from a more complex combination of UV-altered biological processes.