Effects of Modified Phycobilin Biosynthesis in the Cyanobacterium Synechococcus Sp. Strain PCC 7002

J Bacteriol. 2011 Apr;193(7):1663-71. doi: 10.1128/JB.01392-10. Epub 2011 Feb 4.


The pathway for phycocyanobilin biosynthesis in Synechococcus sp. strain PCC 7002 comprises two enzymes: heme oxygenase and phycocyanobilin synthase (PcyA). The phycobilin content of cells can be modified by overexpressing genes encoding alternative enzymes for biliverdin reduction. Overexpression of the pebAB and HY2 genes, encoding alternative ferredoxin-dependent biliverdin reductases, caused unique effects due to the overproduction of phycoerythrobilin and phytochromobilin, respectively. Colonies overexpressing pebAB became reddish brown and visually resembled strains that naturally produce phycoerythrin. This was almost exclusively due to the replacement of phycocyanobilin by phycoerythrobilin on the phycocyanin α-subunit. This phenotype was unstable, and such strains rapidly reverted to the wild-type appearance, presumably due to strong selective pressure to inactivate pebAB expression. Overproduction of phytochromobilin, synthesized by the Arabidopsis thaliana HY2 product, was tolerated much better. Cells overexpressing HY2 were only slightly less pigmented and blue-green than the wild type. Although the pcyA gene could not be inactivated in the wild type, pcyA was easily inactivated when cells expressed HY2. These results indicate that phytochromobilin can functionally substitute for phycocyanobilin in Synechococcus sp. strain PCC 7002. Although functional phycobilisomes were assembled in this strain, the overall phycobiliprotein content of cells was lower, the efficiency of energy transfer by these phycobilisomes was lower than for wild-type phycobilisomes, and the absorption cross-section of the cells was reduced relative to that of the wild type because of an increased spectral overlap of the modified phycobiliproteins with chlorophyll a. As a result, the strain producing phycobiliproteins carrying phytochromobilin grew much more slowly at low light intensity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology
  • Molecular Structure
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Mutation
  • Phycobilins / biosynthesis*
  • Phycobilins / chemistry*
  • Synechococcus / cytology
  • Synechococcus / enzymology*
  • Synechococcus / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Phycobilins