The whole genome sequence of Rhodopirellula baltica SH1(T), published nearly 10years ago, already revealed a high amount of sulfatase genes. So far, little is known about the diversity and potential functions mediated by sulfatases in Planctomycetes. We combined in vivo and in silico techniques to gain insights into the ecophysiology of planktomycetal sulfatases. Comparative genomics of nine recently sequenced Rhodopirellula strains detected 1120 open reading frames annotated as sulfatases (Enzyme Commission number (EC) 3.1.6.*). These were clustered into 173 groups of orthologous and paralogous genes. To analyze the functional aspects, 708 sulfatase protein sequences from these strains were aligned with 67 sulfatase reference sequences of reviewed functionality. Our analysis yielded 22 major similarity clusters, but only five of these clusters contained Rhodopirellula sequences homologous to reference sequences, indicating a surprisingly high diversity. Exemplarily, R. baltica SH1(T) was grown on different sulfated polysaccharides, chondroitin sulfate, λ-carrageenan and fucoidan. Subsequent gene expression analyses using whole genome microarrays revealed distinct sulfatase expression profiles based on substrates tested. This might be indicative for a high structural diversity of sulfated polysaccharides as potential substrates. The pattern of sulfatases in individual planctomycete species may reflect ecological niche adaptation.
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