Iron transporters in marine prokaryotic genomes and metagenomes


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In the pelagic environment, iron is a scarce but essential micronutrient. The iron acquisition capabilities of selected marine bacteria have been investigated, but the recent proliferation of marine prokaryotic genomes and metagenomes offers a more comprehensive picture of microbial iron uptake pathways in the ocean. Searching these data sets, we were able to identify uptake mechanisms for Fe3+, Fe2+ and iron chelates (e.g. siderophore and haem iron complexes). Transport of iron chelates is accomplished by TonB-dependent transporters (TBDTs). After clustering the TBDTs from marine prokaryotic genomes, we identified TBDT clusters for the transport of hydroxamate and catecholate siderophore iron complexes and haem using gene neighbourhood analysis and co-clustering of TBDTs of known function. The genomes also contained two classes of siderophore biosynthesis genes: NRPS (non-ribosomal peptide synthase) genes and NIS (NRPS Independent Siderophore) genes. The most common iron transporters, in both the genomes and metagenomes, were Fe3+ ABC transporters. Iron uptake-related TBDTs and siderophore biosynthesis genes were less common in pelagic marine metagenomes relative to the genomic data set, in part because Pelagibacter ubique and Prochlorococcus species, which almost entirely lacked these Fe uptake systems, dominate the metagenomes. Our results are largely consistent with current knowledge of iron speciation in the ocean, but suggest that in certain niches the ability to acquire siderophores and/or haem iron chelates is beneficial.