Photosynthesis genes in marine viruses yield proteins during host infection

Nature. 2005 Nov 3;438(7064):86-9. doi: 10.1038/nature04111. Epub 2005 Oct 12.


Cyanobacteria, and the viruses (phages) that infect them, are significant contributors to the oceanic 'gene pool'. This pool is dynamic, and the transfer of genetic material between hosts and their phages probably influences the genetic and functional diversity of both. For example, photosynthesis genes of cyanobacterial origin have been found in phages that infect Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, the numerically dominant phototrophs in ocean ecosystems. These genes include psbA, which encodes the photosystem II core reaction centre protein D1, and high-light-inducible (hli) genes. Here we show that phage psbA and hli genes are expressed during infection of Prochlorococcus and are co-transcribed with essential phage capsid genes, and that the amount of phage D1 protein increases steadily over the infective period. We also show that the expression of host photosynthesis genes declines over the course of infection and that replication of the phage genome is a function of photosynthesis. We thus propose that the phage genes are functional in photosynthesis and that they may be increasing phage fitness by supplementing the host production of these proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral / genetics*
  • Genes, Viral / genetics
  • Photosynthesis / genetics*
  • Prochlorococcus / genetics*
  • Prochlorococcus / metabolism
  • Prochlorococcus / virology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / analysis
  • Viral Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Viral Proteins / genetics*


  • Viral Proteins