Microbial degradation of algal biomass following spring phytoplankton blooms has been characterised as a concerted effort among multiple clades of heterotrophic bacteria. Despite their significance to overall carbon turnover, many of these clades have resisted cultivation. One clade known from 16S rRNA gene sequencing surveys at Helgoland in the North Sea, was formerly identified as belonging to the genus Ulvibacter. This clade rapidly responds to algal blooms, transiently making up as much as 20% of the free-living bacterioplankton. Sequence similarity below 95% between the 16S rRNA genes of described Ulvibacter species and those from Helgoland suggest this is a novel genus. Analysis of 40 metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) derived from samples collected during spring blooms at Helgoland support this conclusion. These MAGs represent three species, only one of which appears to bloom in response to phytoplankton. MAGs with estimated completeness greater than 90% could only be recovered for this abundant species. Additional, less complete, MAGs belonging to all three species were recovered from a mini-metagenome of cells sorted via flow cytometry using the genus specific ULV995 fluorescent rRNA probe. Metabolic reconstruction indicates this highly abundant species most likely degrades proteins and the polysaccharide laminarin. Fluorescence in situ hybridisation showed coccoid cells, with a mean diameter of 0.78mm, with standard deviation of 0.12μm. Based on the phylogenetic and genomic characteristics of this clade, we propose the novel candidate genus Candidatus Prosiliicoccus, and for the most abundant and well characterised of the three species the name Candidatus Prosiliicoccus vernus.
Keywords: Flow cytometric sorting; Helgoland; Laminarin; Metagenome assembled genome; North Sea.
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