Ecological divergence of syntopic marine bacterial species is shaped by gene content and expression
Brent Nowinski, Xiaoyuan Feng, Christina M. Preston, James M. Birch, Haiwei Luo, William B. Whitman & Mary Ann Moran
Identifying mechanisms by which bacterial species evolve and maintain genomic diversity is particularly challenging for the uncultured lineages that dominate the surface ocean. A longitudinal analysis of bacterial genes, genomes, and transcripts during a coastal phytoplankton bloom revealed two co-occurring, highly related Rhodobacteraceae species from the deeply branching and uncultured NAC11-7 lineage. These have identical 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequences, yet their genome contents assembled from metagenomes and single cells indicate species-level divergence. Moreover, shifts in relative dominance of the species during dynamic bloom conditions over 7 weeks confirmed the syntopic species’ divergent responses to the same microenvironment at the same time. Genes unique to each species and genes shared but divergent in per-cell inventories of mRNAs accounted for 5% of the species’ pangenome content. These analyses uncover physiological and ecological features that differentiate the species, including capacities for organic carbon utilization, attributes of the cell surface, metal requirements, and vitamin biosynthesis. Such insights into the coexistence of highly related and ecologically similar bacterial species in their shared natural habitat are rare.