Nutrient requirements for growth of the extreme oligotroph 'Candidatus Pelagibacter ubique' HTCC1062 on a defined medium

ISME J. 2013 Mar;7(3):592-602. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2012.122. Epub 2012 Oct 25.


Chemoheterotrophic marine bacteria of the SAR11 clade are Earth's most abundant organisms. Following the first cultivation of a SAR11 bacterium, 'Candidatus Pelagibacter ubique' strain HTCC1062 (Ca. P. ubique) in 2002, unusual nutritional requirements were identified for reduced sulfur compounds and glycine or serine. These requirements were linked to genome streamlining resulting from selection for efficient resource utilization in nutrient-limited ocean habitats. Here we report the first successful cultivation of Ca. P. ubique on a defined artificial seawater medium (AMS1), and an additional requirement for pyruvate or pyruvate precursors. Optimal growth was observed with the collective addition of inorganic macro- and micronutrients, vitamins, methionine, glycine and pyruvate. Methionine served as the sole sulfur source but methionine and glycine were not sufficient to support growth. Optimal cell yields were obtained when the stoichiometry between glycine and pyruvate was 1:4, and incomplete cell division was observed in cultures starved for pyruvate. Glucose and oxaloacetate could fully replace pyruvate, but not acetate, taurine or a variety of tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates. Moreover, both glycine betaine and serine could substitute for glycine. Interestingly, glycolate partially restored growth in the absence of glycine. We propose that this is the result of the use of glycolate, a product of phytoplankton metabolism, as both a carbon source for respiration and as a precursor to glycine. These findings are important because they provide support for the hypothesis that some micro-organisms are challenging to cultivate because of unusual nutrient requirements caused by streamlining selection and gene loss. Our findings also illustrate unusual metabolic rearrangements that adapt these cells to extreme oligotrophy, and underscore the challenge of reconstructing metabolism from genome sequences in organisms that have non-canonical metabolic pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alphaproteobacteria / classification
  • Alphaproteobacteria / genetics
  • Alphaproteobacteria / growth & development*
  • Alphaproteobacteria / metabolism*
  • Culture Media / chemistry*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Pyruvic Acid / metabolism
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Sulfur / metabolism


  • Culture Media
  • Sulfur
  • Pyruvic Acid