Cyanobacteria have shown promising potential for the production of various biofuels and chemical feedstocks. Synechococcus elongatus UTEX 2973 is a fast-growing strain with pronounced tolerance to high temperatures and illumination. Hence, this strain appears to be ideal for the development of photosynthetic biotechnology. However, molecular insights on how this strain can rapidly accumulate biomass and carbohydrates under high-light and high-temperature conditions are lacking.
Differential RNA-Sequencing (dRNA-Seq) enabled the genome-wide identification of 4808 transcription start sites (TSSs) in S. elongatus UTEX 2973 using a background reduction algorithm. High light promoted the transcription of genes associated with central metabolic pathways, whereas the highly induced small RNA (sRNA) PsrR1 likely contributed to the repression of phycobilisome genes and the accelerated glycogen accumulation rates measured under this condition. Darkness caused transcriptome remodeling with a decline in the expression of genes for carbon fixation and other major metabolic pathways and an increase in the expression of genes for glycogen catabolism and Calvin cycle inhibitor CP12. Two of the identified TSSs drive the transcription of highly abundant sRNAs in darkness. One of them is widely conserved throughout the cyanobacterial phylum. Its gene is fused to a protein-coding gene in some species, illustrating the evolutionary origin of sRNAs from an mRNA 3'-end.
Our comprehensive set of genome-wide mapped TSSs, sRNAs and promoter activities will be valuable for projects requiring precise information about the control of transcription aimed at metabolic engineering and the elucidation of stress acclimation mechanisms in this promising strain.