Alternative sigma factors belonging to Group 3 are thought to play an important role in the adaptation of cyanobacteria to environmental challenges by altering expression of genes needed for coping with such stresses. In this study, the role of an alternative sigma factor, SigJ, was analyzed in the filamentous nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium, Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 by knocking down the expression of the sigJ gene (alr0277) employing an antisense RNA-mediated approach. In the absence of any stress, the knock-down (KD0277) or the wild-type strain both grew similarly. Upon exposure to high-intensity light, KD0277 showed substantially reduced bleaching of its pigments, higher photosynthetic activity and consequently better survival than the wild type. KD0277 also showed an enhanced accumulation of two carotenoids, which were identified as myxoxanthophyll and keto-myxoxanthophyll. Further, KD0277 was more tolerant to ammonium-triggered photodamage than the wild type. Moreover, PSII was better protected against photodamage in KD0277 than in the wild type. Down-regulation of sigJ in Anabaena PCC 7120, however, reduced its ability to cope with desiccation. This study demonstrates that down-regulation of the sigJ gene in Anabaena PCC 7120 differentially affects its ability to tolerate two environmentally relevant stresses, i.e. high-intensity light and desiccation.
Keywords: Alternative Sigma Factor; Ammonium Toxicity; Anabaena PCC 7120; Desiccation; Myxoxanthophyll; Photoprotection.
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