Quantifying the effect of environment stability on the transcription factor repertoire of marine microbes

Microb Inform Exp. 2011 Sep 7;1(1):9. doi: 10.1186/2042-5783-1-9.


Background: DNA-binding transcription factors (TFs) regulate cellular functions in prokaryotes, often in response to environmental stimuli. Thus, the environment exerts constant selective pressure on the TF gene content of microbial communities. Recently a study on marine Synechococcus strains detected differences in their genomic TF content related to environmental adaptation, but so far the effect of environmental parameters on the content of TFs in bacterial communities has not been systematically investigated.

Results: We quantified the effect of environment stability on the transcription factor repertoire of marine pelagic microbes from the Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) metagenome using interpolated physico-chemical parameters and multivariate statistics. Thirty-five percent of the difference in relative TF abundances between samples could be explained by environment stability. Six percent was attributable to spatial distance but none to a combination of both spatial distance and stability. Some individual TFs showed a stronger relationship to environment stability and space than the total TF pool.

Conclusions: Environmental stability appears to have a clearly detectable effect on TF gene content in bacterioplanktonic communities described by the GOS metagenome. Interpolated environmental parameters were shown to compare well to in situ measurements and were essential for quantifying the effect of the environment on the TF content. It is demonstrated that comprehensive and well-structured contextual data will strongly enhance our ability to interpret the functional potential of microbes from metagenomic data.