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Summary

Exposure to solar radiation can cause mortality in natural communities of pico-phytoplankton, both at the surface and to a depth of at least 30 m. DNA damage is a significant cause of death, mainly due to cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer formation, which can be lethal if not repaired. While developing a UV mutagenesis protocol for the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus, we isolated a UV-hyper-resistant variant of high light-adapted strain MED4. The hyper-resistant strain was constitutively upregulated for expression of the mutT-phrB operon, encoding nudix hydrolase and photolyase, both of which are involved in repair of DNA damage that can be caused by UV light. Photolyase (PhrB) breaks pyrimidine dimers typically caused by UV exposure, using energy from visible light in the process known as photoreactivation. Nudix hydrolase (MutT) hydrolyses 8-oxo-dGTP, an aberrant form of GTP that results from oxidizing conditions, including UV radiation, thus impeding mispairing and mutagenesis by preventing incorporation of the aberrant form into DNA. These processes are error-free, in contrast to error-prone SOS dark repair systems that are widespread in bacteria. The UV-hyper-resistant strain contained only a single mutation: a 1 bp deletion in the intergenic region directly upstream of the mutT-phrB operon. Two subsequent enrichments for MED4 UV-hyper-resistant strains from MED4 wild-type cultures gave rise to strains containing this same 1 bp deletion, affirming its connection to the hyper-resistant phenotype. These results have implications for Prochlorococcus DNA repair mechanisms, genome stability and possibly lysogeny.