Resolution of Conflicting Signals at the Single-Cell Level in the Regulation of Cyanobacterial Photosynthesis and Nitrogen Fixation
- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
Unicellular, diazotrophic cyanobacteria temporally separate dinitrogen (N2) fixation and photosynthesis to prevent inactivation of the nitrogenase by oxygen. This temporal segregation is regulated by a circadian clock with oscillating activities of N2 fixation in the dark and photosynthesis in the light. On the population level, this separation is not always complete, since the two processes can overlap during transitions from dark to light. How do single cells avoid inactivation of nitrogenase during these periods? One possibility is that phenotypic heterogeneity in populations leads to segregation of the two processes. Here, we measured N2 fixation and photosynthesis of individual cells using nanometer-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS) to assess both processes in a culture of the unicellular, diazotrophic cyanobacterium Crocosphaera watsonii during a dark-light and a continuous light phase. We compared single-cell rates with bulk rates and gene expression profiles. During the regular dark and light phases, C. watsonii exhibited the temporal segregation of N2 fixation and photosynthesis commonly observed. However, N2 fixation and photosynthesis were concurrently measurable at the population level during the subjective dark phase in which cells were kept in the light rather than returned to the expected dark phase. At the single-cell level, though, cells discriminated against either one of the two processes. Cells that showed high levels of photosynthesis had low nitrogen fixing activities, and vice versa. These results suggest that, under ambiguous environmental signals, single cells discriminate against either photosynthesis or nitrogen fixation, and thereby might reduce costs associated with running incompatible processes in the same cell. Show more
Journal / seriesPLoS ONE
Pages / Article No.
PublisherPublic Library of Science
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