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Reconstructing a puzzle: existence of cyanophages containing both photosystem-I and photosystem-II gene suites inferred from oceanic metagenomic datasets


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Cyanobacteria play a key role in marine photosynthesis, which contributes to the global carbon cycle and to the world oxygen supply. Genes encoding the photosystem-II (PSII) reaction centre are found in many cyanophage genomes, and it was suggested that the horizontal transfer of these genes might be involved in increasing phage fitness. Recently, evidence for the existence of phages carrying Photosystem-I (PSI) genes was also reported. Here, using a combination of different marine metagenomic datasets and a unique crossing of the datasets, we now describe the finding of phages that, as in plants and cyanobacteria, contain both PSII and PSI genes. In addition, these phages also contain NADH dehydrogenase genes. The presence of modified PSII and PSI genes in the same viral entities in combination with electron transfer proteins like NAD(P)H dehydrogenase (NDH-1) strongly points to a role in perturbation of the cyanobacterial host photosynthetic electron flow. We therefore suggest that, depending on the physiological condition of the infected cyanobacterial host, the viruses may use different options to maximize survival. The modified PSI may alternate between functioning with PSII in linear electron transfer and contributing to the production of both NADPH and ATP or functioning independently of PSII in cyclic mode via the NDH-1 complex and thus producing only ATP.