Alternatives to vitamin B1 uptake revealed with discovery of riboswitches in multiple marine eukaryotic lineages

Darcy McRose, Jian Guo, Adam Monier, Sebastian Sudek, Susanne Wilken, Shuangchun Yan, Thomas Mock, John M. Archibald, Tadhg P. Begley, Adrian Reyes-Prieto, Alexandra Z. Worden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Vitamin B 1 (thiamine pyrophosphate, TPP) is essential to all life but scarce in ocean surface waters. In many bacteria and a few eukaryotic groups thiamine biosynthesis genes are controlled by metabolite-sensing mRNA-based gene regulators known as riboswitches. Using available genome sequences and transcriptomes generated from ecologically important marine phytoplankton, we identified 31 new eukaryotic riboswitches. These were found in alveolate, cryptophyte, haptophyte and rhizarian phytoplankton as well as taxa from two lineages previously known to have riboswitches (green algae and stramenopiles). The predicted secondary structures bear hallmarks of TPP-sensing riboswitches. Surprisingly, most of the identified riboswitches are affiliated with genes of unknown function, rather than characterized thiamine biosynthesis genes. Using qPCR and growth experiments involving two prasinophyte algae, we show that expression of these genes increases significantly under vitamin B 1 -deplete conditions relative to controls. Pathway analyses show that several algae harboring the uncharacterized genes lack one or more enzymes in the known TPP biosynthesis pathway. We demonstrate that one such alga, the major primary producer Emiliania huxleyi, grows on 4-amino-5-hydroxymethyl-2-methylpyrimidine (a thiamine precursor moiety) alone, although long thought dependent on exogenous sources of thiamine. Thus, overall, we have identified riboswitches in major eukaryotic lineages not known to undergo this form of gene regulation. In these phytoplankton groups, riboswitches are often affiliated with widespread thiamine-responsive genes with as yet uncertain roles in TPP pathways. Further, taxa with 'incomplete' TPP biosynthesis pathways do not necessarily require exogenous vitamin B 1, making vitamin control of phytoplankton blooms more complex than the current paradigm suggests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2517-2529
Number of pages13
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
Early online date29 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014

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