Unique Patterns and Biogeochemical Relevance of Two-Component Sensing in Marine Bacteria. Academic Article uri icon


  • Two-component sensory (TCS) systems link microbial physiology to the environment and thus may play key roles in biogeochemical cycles. In this study, we surveyed the TCS systems of 328 diverse marine bacterial species. We identified lifestyle traits such as copiotrophy and diazotrophy that are associated with larger numbers of TCS system genes within the genome. We compared marine bacterial species with 1,152 reference bacterial species from a variety of habitats and found evidence of extra response regulators in marine genomes. Examining the location of TCS genes along the circular bacterial genome, we also found that marine bacteria have a large number of "orphan" genes, as well as many hybrid histidine kinases. The prevalence of "extra" response regulators, orphan genes, and hybrid TCS systems suggests that marine bacteria break with traditional understanding of how TCS systems operate. These trends suggest prevalent regulatory networking, which may allow coordinated physiological responses to multiple environmental signals and may represent a specific adaptation to the marine environment. We examine phylogenetic and lifestyle traits that influence the number and structure of two-component systems in the genome, finding, for example, that a lack of two-component systems is a hallmark of oligotrophy. Finally, in an effort to demonstrate the importance of TCS systems to marine biogeochemistry, we examined the distribution of Prochlorococcus/Synechococcus response regulator PMT9312_0717 in metaproteomes of the tropical South Pacific. We found that this protein's abundance is related to phosphate concentrations, consistent with a putative role in phosphate regulation. IMPORTANCE Marine microbes must manage variation in their chemical, physical, and biological surroundings. Because they directly link bacterial physiology to environmental changes, TCS systems are crucial to the bacterial cell. This study surveyed TCS systems in a large number of marine bacteria and identified key phylogenetic and lifestyle patterns in environmental sensing. We found evidence that, in comparison with bacteria as a whole, marine organisms have irregular TCS system constructs which might represent an adaptation specific to the marine environment. Additionally, we demonstrate the biogeochemical relevance of TCS systems by correlating the presence of the PMT9312_0717 response regulator protein to phosphate concentrations in the South Pacific. We highlight that despite their potential ecological and biogeochemical relevance, TCS systems have been understudied in the marine ecosystem. This report expands our understanding of the breadth of bacterial TCS systems and how marine bacteria have adapted to survive in their unique environment.

publication date

  • January 2019