Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

The essential gene set of a photosynthetic organism.

PMID 26508635


Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 is a model organism used for studying photosynthesis and the circadian clock, and it is being developed for the production of fuel, industrial chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. To identify a comprehensive set of genes and intergenic regions that impacts fitness in S. elongatus, we created a pooled library of ∼ 250,000 transposon mutants and used sequencing to identify the insertion locations. By analyzing the distribution and survival of these mutants, we identified 718 of the organism's 2,723 genes as essential for survival under laboratory conditions. The validity of the essential gene set is supported by its tight overlap with well-conserved genes and its enrichment for core biological processes. The differences noted between our dataset and these predictors of essentiality, however, have led to surprising biological insights. One such finding is that genes in a large portion of the TCA cycle are dispensable, suggesting that S. elongatus does not require a cyclic TCA process. Furthermore, the density of the transposon mutant library enabled individual and global statements about the essentiality of noncoding RNAs, regulatory elements, and other intergenic regions. In this way, a group I intron located in tRNA(Leu), which has been used extensively for phylogenetic studies, was shown here to be essential for the survival of S. elongatus. Our survey of essentiality for every locus in the S. elongatus genome serves as a powerful resource for understanding the organism's physiology and defines the essential gene set required for the growth of a photosynthetic organism.