Compatible solute biosynthesis in cyanobacteria


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Compatible solutes are a functional group of small, highly soluble organic molecules that demonstrate compatibility in high amounts with cellular metabolism. The accumulation of compatible solutes is often observed during the acclimation of organisms to adverse environmental conditions, particularly to salt and drought stress. Among cyanobacteria, sucrose, trehalose, glucosylglycerol and glycine betaine are used as major compatible solutes. Interestingly, a close correlation has been discovered between the final salt tolerance limit and the primary compatible solute in these organisms. In addition to the dominant compatible solutes, many strains accumulate mixtures of these compounds, including minor compounds such as glucosylglycerate or proline as secondary or tertiary solutes. In particular, the accumulation of sucrose and trehalose results in an increase in tolerance to general stresses such as desiccation and high temperatures. During recent years, the biochemical and molecular basis of compatible solute accumulation has been characterized using cyanobacterial model strains that comprise different salt tolerance groups. Based on these data, the distribution of genes involved in compatible solute synthesis among sequenced cyanobacterial genomes is reviewed, and thereby, the major compatible solutes and potential salt tolerance of these strains can be predicted. Knowledge regarding cyanobacterial salt tolerance is not only useful to characterize strain-specific adaptations to ecological niches, but it can also be used to generate cells with increased tolerance to adverse environmental conditions for biotechnological purposes.