Seasonal patterns in microbial carbon and iron transporter expression in the Southern Ocean

Pavla Debeljak, Barbara Bayer, Ying Sun, Gerhard J Herndl, Ingrid Obernosterer

BACKGROUND: Heterotrophic microbes in the Southern Ocean are challenged by the double constraint of low concentrations of organic carbon (C) and iron (Fe). These essential elements are tightly coupled in cellular processes; however, the prokaryotic requirements of C and Fe under varying environmental settings remain poorly studied. Here, we used a combination of metatranscriptomics and metaproteomics to identify prokaryotic membrane transporters for organic substrates and Fe in naturally iron-fertilized and high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll waters of the Southern Ocean during spring and late summer.

RESULTS: Pronounced differences in membrane transporter profiles between seasons were observed at both sites, both at the transcript and protein level. When specific compound classes were considered, the two approaches revealed different patterns. At the transcript level, seasonal patterns were only observed for subsets of genes belonging to each transporter category. At the protein level, membrane transporters of organic compounds were relatively more abundant in spring as compared to summer, while the opposite pattern was observed for Fe transporters. These observations suggest an enhanced requirement for organic C in early spring and for Fe in late summer. Mapping transcripts and proteins to 50 metagenomic-assembled genomes revealed distinct taxon-specific seasonal differences pointing to potentially opportunistic clades, such as Pseudomonadales and Nitrincolaceae, and groups with a more restricted repertoire of expressed transporters, such as Alphaproteobacteria and Flavobacteriaceae.

CONCLUSION: The combined investigations of C and Fe membrane transporters suggest seasonal changes in the microbial requirements of these elements under different productivity regimes. The taxon-specific acquisition strategies of different forms of C and Fe illustrate how diverse microbes could shape transcript and protein expression profiles at the community level at different seasons. Our results on the C- and Fe-related metabolic capabilities of microbial taxa provide new insights into their potential role in the cycling of C and Fe under varying nutrient regimes in the Southern Ocean. Video Abstract.

Department of Evolutionary Biology, Functional and Evolutionary Ecology
External organisation(s)
Sorbonne Université, SupBiotech, BGI Group, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Universität Wien
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106021 Marine biology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Microbiology (medical), Microbiology
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