Life2014, 4(4), 1038-1049; doi:10.3390/life4041038 (registering DOI) - published 17 December 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Over the past few decades, several protocell models have been developed that mimic certain essential characteristics of living cells. These protocells tend to be highly reductionist simplifications of living cells with prominent bilayer membrane boundaries, encapsulated metabolisms and/or encapsulated biologically-derived polymers as potential sources of information coding. In parallel with this conventional work, a novel protocell model based on droplets is also being developed. Such water-in-oil and oil-in-water droplet systems can possess chemical and biochemical transformations and biomolecule production, self-movement, self-division, individuality, group dynamics, and perhaps the fundamentals of intelligent systems and evolution. Given the diverse functionality possible with droplets as mimics of living cells, this system has the potential to be the first true embodiment of artificial life that is an orthologous departure from the one familiar type of biological life. This paper will synthesize the recent activity to develop droplets as protocell models.
Life2014, 4(4), 1026-1037; doi:10.3390/life4041026 - published 16 December 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Cyanobacteria were sampled along two vertical and two horizontal transects in the littoral of Devoke Water, English Lake District. Profiles of cyanobacterium diversity and abundance showed that both attained a maximum close to the water line, but declined rapidly 20–40 cm above it. The distribution of individual species with height together with species and site ordinations showed that several taxa occurred in well-defined zones. A narrow “black zone” in the supralittoral was colonised mainly by species of Calothrix, Dichothrix and Gloeocapsa with pigmented sheaths. There was no evidence of lateral variation of species around the lake, but the height of the black zone correlated positively with wind exposure. The flora of Devoke Water is that of a base-poor mountain lake with some elements of a lowland, more alkaline water-body.
Life2014, 4(4), 1013-1025; doi:10.3390/life4041013 - published 16 December 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Spark-tube experiments and analysis of meteorite contents have led to the widespread notion that abiotic organic molecules were the first life components. However, there is a contradiction between the abundance of simple molecules, such as the amino acids glycine and alanine, observed in these studies, and the minimal functional complexity that even the least sophisticated living system should require. I will argue that although simple abiotic molecules must have primed proto-metabolic pathways, only Darwinian evolving systems could have generated life. This condition may have been initially fulfilled by both replicating RNAs and autocatalytic reaction chains, such as the reductive citric acid cycle. The interactions between nucleotides and biotic amino acids, which conferred new functionalities to the former, also resulted in the progressive stereochemical recognition of the latter by cognate anticodons. At this point only large enough amino acids would be recognized by the primordial RNA adaptors and could polymerize forming the first peptides. The gene duplication of RNA adaptors was a crucial event. By removing one of the anticodons from the acceptor stem the new RNA adaptor liberated itself from the stereochemical constraint and could be acylated by smaller amino acids. The emergence of messenger RNA and codon capture followed.
Life2014, 4(4), 988-1012; doi:10.3390/life4040988 - published 15 December 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Bloom-forming harmful cyanobacteria (CyanoHABs) are harmful from environmental, ecological and human health perspectives by outcompeting beneficial phytoplankton, creating low oxygen conditions (hypoxia, anoxia), and by producing cyanotoxins. Cyanobacterial genera exhibit optimal growth rates and bloom potentials at relatively high water temperatures; hence, global warming plays a key role in their expansion and persistence. CyanoHABs are regulated by synergistic effects of nutrient (nitrogen:N and phosphorus:P) supplies, light, temperature, vertical stratification, water residence times, and biotic interactions. In most instances, nutrient control strategies should focus on reducing both N and P inputs. Strategies based on physical, chemical (nutrient) and biological manipulations can be effective in reducing CyanoHABs; however, these strategies are largely confined to relatively small systems, and some are prone to ecological and environmental drawbacks, including enhancing release of cyanotoxins, disruption of planktonic and benthic communities and fisheries habitat. All strategies should consider and be adaptive to climatic variability and change in order to be effective for long-term control of CyanoHABs. Rising temperatures and greater hydrologic variability will increase growth rates and alter critical nutrient thresholds for CyanoHAB development; thus, nutrient reductions for bloom control may need to be more aggressively pursued in response to climatic changes globally.
Life2014, 4(4), 968-987; doi:10.3390/life4040968 - published 15 December 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Roseofilum reptotaenium is a gliding, filamentous, phycoerythrin-rich cyanobacterium that has been found only in the horizontally migrating, pathogenic microbial mat, black band disease (BBD) on Caribbean corals. R. reptotaenium dominates the BBD mat in terms of biomass and motility, and the filaments form the mat fabric. This cyanobacterium produces the cyanotoxin microcystin, predominately MC-LR, and can tolerate high levels of sulfide produced by sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB) that are also associated with BBD. Laboratory cultures of R. reptotaenium infect coral fragments, suggesting that the cyanobacterium is the primary pathogen of BBD, but since this species cannot grow axenically and Koch’s Postulates cannot be fulfilled, it cannot be proposed as a primary pathogen. However, R. reptotaenium does play several major pathogenic roles in this polymicrobial disease. Here, we provide an overview of the ecology of this coral pathogen and present new information on R. reptotaenium ecophysiology, including roles in the infection process, chemotactic and other motility responses, and the effect of pH on growth and motility. Additionally, we show, using metabolomics, that exposure of the BBD microbial community to the cyanotoxin MC-LR affects community metabolite profiles, in particular those associated with nucleic acid biosynthesis.
Life2014, 4(4), 944-967; doi:10.3390/life4040944 - published 11 December 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena variabilis ATCC 29413 fixes nitrogen under aerobic conditions in specialized cells called heterocysts that form in response to an environmental deficiency in combined nitrogen. Nitrogen fixation is mediated by the enzyme nitrogenase, which is very sensitive to oxygen. Heterocysts are microxic cells that allow nitrogenase to function in a filament comprised primarily of vegetative cells that produce oxygen by photosynthesis. A. variabilis is unique among well-characterized cyanobacteria in that it has three nitrogenase gene clusters that encode different nitrogenases, which function under different environmental conditions. The nif1 genes encode a Mo-nitrogenase that functions only in heterocysts, even in filaments grown anaerobically. The nif2 genes encode a different Mo-nitrogenase that functions in vegetative cells, but only in filaments grown under anoxic conditions. An alternative V-nitrogenase is encoded by vnf genes that are expressed only in heterocysts in an environment that is deficient in Mo. Thus, these three nitrogenases are expressed differentially in response to environmental conditions. The entire nif1 gene cluster, comprising at least 15 genes, is primarily under the control of the promoter for the first gene, nifB1. Transcriptional control of many of the downstream nif1 genes occurs by a combination of weak promoters within the coding regions of some downstream genes and by RNA processing, which is associated with increased transcript stability. The vnf genes show a similar pattern of transcriptional and post-transcriptional control of expression suggesting that the complex pattern of regulation of the nif1 cluster is conserved in other cyanobacterial nitrogenase gene clusters.