Phosphorus scavenging in the unicellular marine diazotroph Crocosphaera watsonii. Academic Article uri icon


  • Through the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen and photosynthesis, marine diazotrophs play a critical role in the global cycling of nitrogen and carbon. Crocosphaera watsonii is a recently described unicellular diazotroph that may significantly contribute to marine nitrogen fixation in tropical environments. One of the many factors that can constrain the growth and nitrogen fixation rates of marine diazotrophs is phosphorus bioavailability. Using genomic and physiological approaches, we examined phosphorus scavenging mechanisms in strains of C. watsonii from both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Observations from the C. watsonii WH8501 genome suggest that this organism has the capacity for high-affinity phosphate transport (e.g., homologs of pstSCAB) in low-phosphate, oligotrophic systems. The pstS gene (high-affinity phosphate binding) is present in strains isolated from both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and its expression was regulated by the exogenous phosphate supply in strain WH8501. Genomic observation also indicated a broad capacity for phosphomonoester hydrolysis (e.g., a putative alkaline phosphatase). In contrast, no clear homologs of genes for phosphonate transport and hydrolysis could be identified. Consistent with these genomic observations, C. watsonii WH8501 is able to grow on phosphomonoesters as a sole source of added phosphorus but not on the phosphonates tested to date. Taken together these data suggest that C. watsonii has a robust capacity for scavenging phosphorus in oligotrophic systems, although this capacity differs from that of other marine cyanobacterial genera, such as Synechococcus, Prochlorococcus, and Trichodesmium.

publication date

  • February 2006