Discovery of a SAR11 growth requirement for thiamin's pyrimidine precursor and its distribution in the Sargasso Sea

Paul Carini, Emily O. Campbell, Jeff Morré, Sergio A. Sañudo-Wilhelmy, J. Cameron Thrash, Samuel E. Bennett, Ben Temperton, Tadhg Begley, Stephen J. Giovannoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Vitamin traffic, the production of organic growth factors by some microbial community members and their use by other taxa, is being scrutinized as a potential explanation for the variation and highly connected behavior observed in ocean plankton by community network analysis. Thiamin (vitamin B 1), a cofactor in many essential biochemical reactions that modify carbon-carbon bonds of organic compounds, is distributed in complex patterns at subpicomolar concentrations in the marine surface layer (0-300 m). Sequenced genomes from organisms belonging to the abundant and ubiquitous SAR11 clade of marine chemoheterotrophic bacteria contain genes coding for a complete thiamin biosynthetic pathway, except for thiC, encoding the 4-amino-5-hydroxymethyl-2- methylpyrimidine (HMP) synthase, which is required for de novo synthesis of thiamin's pyrimidine moiety. Here we demonstrate that the SAR11 isolate 'Candidatus Pelagibacter ubique', strain HTCC1062, is auxotrophic for the thiamin precursor HMP, and cannot use exogenous thiamin for growth. In culture, strain HTCC1062 required 0.7 zeptomoles per cell (ca. 400 HMP molecules per cell). Measurements of dissolved HMP in the Sargasso Sea surface layer showed that HMP ranged from undetectable (detection limit: 2.4 pM) to 35.7 pM, with maximum concentrations coincident with the deep chlorophyll maximum. In culture, some marine cyanobacteria, microalgae and bacteria exuded HMP, and in the Western Sargasso Sea, HMP profiles changed between the morning and evening, suggesting a dynamic biological flux from producers to consumers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1727-1738
Number of pages12
JournalISME Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • B1
  • auxotrophy
  • micronutrient
  • phytoplankton
  • thiamine
  • vitamins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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