Being Selective in the Prochlorococcus Collective

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Science  25 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6182, pp. 366-367
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253817

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Marine phytoplankton are a key component in global biogeochemical cycles and marine food webs. The structure and function of phytoplankton communities varies throughout the oceans, organized by ocean circulation and resource delivery, and is intertwined with the acclimation (physiological plasticity) and adaptation of the organisms to the prevailing conditions. Cyanobacteria of the genus Prochlorococcus are a dominant component of such communities in oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) regions of the oceans between 45°N and 40°S (1). On page 416 of this issue, Kashtan et al. (2) use single-cell genomics to describe the genotypes of individual Prochlorococcus cells co-occurring at the Bermuda-Atlantic Time-series Study site in the Sargasso Sea. The work provides a detailed view of the population genetics of this organism, revealing an array of diverse genotypes that hint at the evolutionary and environmental forces that generate and maintain Prochlorococcus diversity. More generally, the study brings a new dimension to what can be done today in environmental microbiology by combining single-cell isolation from the field with DNA sequencing technologies.