Complex microbiome underlying secondary and primary metabolism in the tunicate-Prochloron symbiosis

Mohamed S. Abou Donia, W. Florian Fricke, Frédéric Partensky, James Cox, Sherif I. Elshahawi, James R. White, Adam M. Phillippy, Michael C. Schatz, Joern Piel, Margo G. Haygood, Jacques Ravel, Eric W. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


The relationship between tunicates and the uncultivated cyanobacterium Prochloron didemni has long provided a model symbiosis. P. didemni is required for survival of animals such as Lissoclinum patella and also makes secondary metabolites of pharmaceutical interest. Here, we present the metagenomes, chemistry, and microbiomes of four related L. patella tunicate samples from a wide geographical range of the tropical Pacific. The remarkably similar P. didemni genomes are the most complex so far assembled from uncultivated organisms. Although P. didemni has not been stably cultivated and comprises a single strain in each sample, a complete set of metabolic genes indicates that the bacteria are likely capable of reproducing outside the host. The sequences reveal notable peculiarities of the photosynthetic apparatus and explain the basis of nutrient exchange underlying the symbiosis. P. didemni likely profoundly influences the lipid composition of the animals by synthesizing sterols and an unusual lipid with biofuel potential. In addition, L. patella also harbors a great variety of other bacterial groups that contribute nutritional and secondary metabolic products to the symbiosis. These bacteria possess an enormous genetic potential to synthesize new secondary metabolites. For example, an antitumor candidate molecule, patellazole, is not encoded in the genome of Prochloron and was linked to other bacteria from the microbiome. This study unveils the complex L. patella microbiome and its impact on primary and secondary metabolism, revealing a remarkable versatility in creating and exchanging small molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1423-E1432
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 20 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Ascidian
  • Metagenomics
  • Natural products
  • Photosynthesis


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