Background: Cyanobacteria are among the most abundant organisms on Earth and represent one of the oldest and most widespread clades known in modern phylogenetics. As the only known prokaryotes capable of oxygenic photosynthesis, cyanobacteria are considered to be a promising resource for renewable fuels and natural products. Our efforts to harness the sun's energy using cyanobacteria would greatly benefit from an increased understanding of the genomic diversity across multiple cyanobacterial strains. In this respect, the advent of novel sequencing techniques and the availability of several cyanobacterial genomes offers new opportunities for understanding microbial diversity and metabolic organization and evolution in diverse environments.
Results: Here, we report a whole genome comparison of multiple phototrophic cyanobacteria. We describe genetic diversity found within cyanobacterial genomes, specifically with respect to metabolic functionality. Our results are based on pair-wise comparison of protein sequences and concomitant construction of clusters of likely ortholog genes. We differentiate between core, shared and unique genes and show that the majority of genes are associated with a single genome. In contrast, genes with metabolic function are strongly overrepresented within the core genome that is common to all considered strains. The analysis of metabolic diversity within core carbon metabolism reveals parts of the metabolic networks that are highly conserved, as well as highly fragmented pathways.
Conclusions: Our results have direct implications for resource allocation and further sequencing projects. It can be extrapolated that the number of newly identified genes still significantly increases with increasing number of new sequenced genomes. Furthermore, genome analysis of multiple phototrophic strains allows us to obtain a detailed picture of metabolic diversity that can serve as a starting point for biotechnological applications and automated metabolic reconstructions.