Adaptation and spectral tuning in divergent marine proteorhodopsins from the eastern Mediterranean and the Sargasso Seas

ISME J. 2007 May;1(1):48-55. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2007.10.


Proteorhodopsins (PRs) phototrophy was recently discovered in oceanic surface waters. PRs have been observed in different marine environments and in diverse taxa, including the ubiquitous marine alphaproteobacterial SAR11 group and the uncultured gammaproteobacterial SAR86 group. Previously, two SAR86 PR subgroups, discovered in the Pacific Ocean, were shown to absorb light with different maxima, lambda max 527 nm (green) and lambda max 490 nm (blue) and their distribution was explained by prevailing light conditions - green pigments at the surface and blue in deeper waters. Here, we show that PRs display high diversity in geographically distinct patterns despite similar physical water column properties such as mixing and light penetration. We compared summer and winter samples representing stratified and mixed conditions from both the Mediterranean and Sargasso Sea. As expected, in the Mediterranean Sea, green pigments were mainly confined to the surface and the percentage of blue pigments increased toward deeper samples; in the Sargasso Sea, unexpectedly, all PRs were of the blue type. As an additional result, both locations show seasonal dependence in the distribution of different PR families. Finally, spectral tuning was not restricted to a single PR family as previously reported but occurs across the sampled PR families from various microbial taxa. The distribution of tunable PRs across the PR tree suggests that ready adaptability has been distributed widely among microorganisms, and may be a reason that PRs are abundant and taxonomically widely dispersed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Proteobacteria / metabolism
  • Rhodopsin / analysis
  • Rhodopsin / physiology*
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • Seasons
  • Seawater
  • Species Specificity


  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • proteorhodopsin
  • Rhodopsin