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File:Prochlorococcus TEM.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Bacteria
Division: Cyanobacteria
Order: Synechococcales
Family: Synechococcaceae
Genus: Prochlorococcus
Chisholm et al., 1992

P. marinus

Prochlorococcus is a genus of very small (0.6 µm) marine cyanobacteria with an unusual pigmentation (chlorophyll b) belonging to photosynthetic picoplankton. It is probably the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth.


Although there had been several earlier records of very small chlorophyll-b-containing cyanobacteria in the ocean[1][2], Prochlorococcus was actually discovered in 1986[3] by Sallie W. (Penny) Chisholm of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robert J. Olson of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and other collaborators in the Sargasso Sea using flow cytometry. The first culture of Prochlorococcus was isolated in the Sargasso Sea in 1988 (strain SS120) and shortly another strain was obtained from the Mediterranean Sea (strain MED). The name Prochlorococcus[4] originated from the fact it was originally assumed that Prochlorococcus was related to Prochloron and other chlorophyll b containing bacteria, called prochlorophytes, but it is now known that prochlorophytes form several separate phylogenetic groups within the cyanobacteria subgroup of the bacteria kingdom.

Marine cyanobacteria are to date the smallest known photosynthetic organisms: Prochlorococcus is the smallest at just 0.5 to 0.8 micrometres across. Possibly they are also the most plentiful species on Earth: a single millilitre of surface seawater may contain 100,000 cells or more. Worldwide, there are estimated to be 100 octillion individuals.[5] Prochlorococcus is ubiquitous between 40°N and 40°S and dominates in the oligotrophic (nutrient poor) regions of the oceans[6].

The light harvesting pigment complement of Prochlorococcus is unique, consisting predominantly of divinyl derivatives of chlorophyll a (Chl a2) and b (Chl b2) and lacking monovinyl chlorophylls. Prochlorococcus occupies two distinct niches, leading to the nomenclature of the low light (LL) and high light (HL) groups [7], which vary in pigment ratios (LL possess a high ration of chlorophyll b2: a2 and HL low b2: a2), light requirements, nitrogen and phosphorus utilization, copper and virus sensitivity. These "ecotypes" can be differentiated on the basis of the sequence of their ribosomal RNA gene. Recently the genomes of several strains of Prochlorococcus have been sequenced [8][9].


  1. P. W. Johnson & J. M. Sieburth (1979). "Chroococcoid cyanobacteria in the sea: a ubiquitous and diverse phototrophic biomass". Limnology and Oceanography. 24: 928–935. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  2. W. W. C. Gieskes & G. W. Kraay (1983). "Unknown chlorophyll a derivatives in the North Sea and the tropical Atlantic Ocean revealed by HPLC analysis". Limnology and Oceanography. 28: 757–766. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  3. S. W. Chisholm, R. J. Olson, E. R. Zettler, J. Waterbury, R. Goericke & N. Welschmeyer (1988). "A novel free-living prochlorophyte occurs at high cell concentrations in the oceanic euphotic zone". Nature. 334: 340–343. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  4. Sallie W. Chisholm, S. L. Frankel, R. Goericke, R. J. Olson, B. Palenik, J. B. Waterbury, L. West-Johnsrud & E. R. Zettler (1992). "Prochlorococcus marinus nov. gen. nov. sp.: an oxyphototrophic marine prokaryote containing divinyl chlorophyll a and b". Archives of Microbiology. 157: 297–300. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  5. "DGF". NASA.
  6. F. Partensky, W. R. Hess & D. Vaulot (1999). "Prochlorococcus, a marine photosynthetic prokaryote of global significance". Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews. 63: 106–127. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  7. N. J. West & D. J. Scanlan (1999). "Niche-partitioning of Prochlorococcus in a stratified water column in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean". Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 65: 2585–2591. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  8. G. Rocap, F. W. Larimer, J. Lamerdin, S. Malfatti, P. Chain, N. A. Ahlgren, A. Arellano, M. Coleman, L. Hauser, W. R. Hess, Z. I. Johnson, M. Land, D. Lindell, A. F. Post, W. Regala, M. Shah, S. L. Shaw, C. Steglich, M. B. Sullivan, C. S. Ting, A. Tolonen, E. A. Webb, E. R. Zinser & S. W. Chisholm (2003). "Genome divergence in two Prochlorococcus ecotypes reflects oceanic niche differentiation" (PDF). Nature. 424: 1042–1047. doi:10.1038/nature01947. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)
  9. A. Dufresne, M. Salanoubat, F. Partensky, F. Artiguenave, I. M. Axmann, V. Barbe, S. Duprat, M. Y. Galperin, E. V. Koonin, F. Le Gall, K. S. Makarova, M. Ostrowski, S. Oztas, C. Robert, I. B. Rogozin, D. J. Scanlan, N. Tandeau de Marsac, J. Weissenbach, P. Wincker, Y. I. Wolf & W. R. Hess (2003). "Genome sequence of the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus marinus SS120, a nearly minimal oxyphototrophic genome". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 100: 10020–10025. doi:10.1073/pnas.1733211100. Unknown parameter |quotes= ignored (help)

Further reading

See also

External links