Novel analysis of oceanic surface water metagenomes suggests importance of polyphosphate metabolism in oligotrophic environments

PLoS One. 2011 Jan 28;6(1):e16499. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016499.


Polyphosphate is a ubiquitous linear homopolymer of phosphate residues linked by high-energy bonds similar to those found in ATP. It has been associated with many processes including pathogenicity, DNA uptake and multiple stress responses across all domains. Bacteria have also been shown to use polyphosphate as a way to store phosphate when transferred from phosphate-limited to phosphate-rich media--a process exploited in wastewater treatment and other environmental contaminant remediation. Despite this, there has, to date, been little research into the role of polyphosphate in the survival of marine bacterioplankton in oligotrophic environments. The three main proteins involved in polyphosphate metabolism, Ppk1, Ppk2 and Ppx are multi-domain and have differential inter-domain and inter-gene conservation, making unbiased analysis of relative abundance in metagenomic datasets difficult. This paper describes the development of a novel Isofunctional Homolog Annotation Tool (IHAT) to detect homologs of genes with a broad range of conservation without bias of traditional expect-value cutoffs. IHAT analysis of the Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) dataset revealed that genes associated with polyphosphate metabolism are more abundant in environments where available phosphate is limited, suggesting an important role for polyphosphate metabolism in marine oligotrophs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environment
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Metagenome / genetics*
  • Phosphates
  • Polyphosphates / metabolism*
  • Seawater* / chemistry
  • Seawater* / microbiology


  • Phosphates
  • Polyphosphates