Distribution of acI-Actinorhodopsin genes in Baltic Sea salinity gradients indicates adaptation of facultative freshwater photoheterotrophs to brackish waters

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Summary

Knowledge on Actinobacteria rhodopsin gene (actR) diversity and spatial distribution is scarce. The Baltic Sea is characterized by strong salinity gradients leading to the coexistence of marine and freshwater bacteria and hence is an ideal study area to elucidate the dispersion and phylogenetic affiliation of actR in dependence on salinity. ActR DGGE fingerprints in summer 2008 revealed between 3 and 19 distinct bands within a salinity range of 2.4–27 PSU. Environmental actR clone sequences were obtained from stations distributed along the whole salinity gradient. Overall, 20 different actR sequence groups (operational taxonomic units) were found, with up to 11 different ones per station. Phylogenetically, the actR sequences were predominantly (80%) affiliated with freshwater acI-Actinobacteria whose 16S rRNA gene accounted for 2–33% of total 16S rRNA genes in both the Bothnian Sea and central Baltic Sea. However, at salinities above 14 PSU, acI-16S rRNA gene accounted for less than 1%. In contrast, the diversity of actR remained high. Changes in actR gene diversity were significantly correlated with salinity, oxygen, silica or abundance of Synechococcus sp. Our results demonstrate a wide distribution of freshwater actR along the Baltic Sea salinity gradient indicating that some freshwater Actinobacteria might have adapted to higher salinities.

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