Functional Metagenomic Screen Reveals New and Diverse Microbial Rhodopsins

ISME J. 2016 Sep;10(9):2331-5. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2016.7. Epub 2016 Feb 19.


Ion-translocating retinylidene rhodopsins are widely distributed among marine and freshwater microbes. The translocation is light-driven, contributing to the production of biochemical energy in diverse microbes. Until today, most microbial rhodopsins had been detected using bioinformatics based on homology to other rhodopsins. In the past decade, there has been increased interest in microbial rhodopsins in the field of optogenetics since microbial rhodopsins were found to be most useful in vertebrate neuronal systems. Here we report on a functional metagenomic assay for detecting microbial rhodopsins. Using an array of narrow pH electrodes and light-emitting diode illumination, we were able to screen a metagenomic fosmid library to detect diverse marine proteorhodopsins and an actinorhodopsin based solely on proton-pumping activity. Our assay therefore provides a rather simple phenotypic means to enrich our understanding of microbial rhodopsins without any prior knowledge of the genomic content of the environmental entities screened.

MeSH terms

  • Electrodes
  • Gene Library
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Indian Ocean
  • Light
  • Metagenomics*
  • Multigene Family*
  • Phylogeny
  • Proton Pumps
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial / genetics*
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial / radiation effects
  • Seawater / microbiology*


  • Proton Pumps
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • proteorhodopsin