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Summary

Many photosynthetic microorganisms have evolved the ability to sense light quality and/or quantity and can steer themselves into optimal conditions within the environment. Phototaxis and gliding motility in unicellular cyanobacteria require type IV pili, which are multifunctional cell surface appendages. Screens for cells exhibiting aberrant motility uncovered several non-motile mutants as well as some that had lost positive phototaxis (consequently, they were negatively phototactic). Several negatively phototactic mutants mapped to the tax1 locus, which contains five chemotaxis-like genes. This locus includes a gene that encodes a putative photoreceptor (TaxD1) for positive phototaxis. A second chemotaxis-like cluster (tax3 locus) appears to be involved in pilus biogenesis. The biosynthesis and regulation of type IV pilus-based motility as well as the communication between the pilus motor and photosensory molecules appear to be complex and tightly regulated. Furthermore, the discovery that cyclic AMP and novel gene products are necessary for phototaxis/motility suggests that there might be additional levels of communication and signal processing.