Proteorhodopsin (PR) is a light-driven proton pump that is found in diverse bacteria and archaea species, and is widespread in marine microbial ecosystems. To date, many studies have suggested the advantage of PR for microorganisms in sunlit environments. The ecophysiological significance of PR is still not fully understood however, including the drivers of PR gene gain, retention, and loss in different marine microbial species. To explore this question we sequenced 21 marine Flavobacteriia genomes of polyphyletic origin, which encompassed both PR-possessing as well as PR-lacking strains. Here, we show that the possession or alternatively the lack of PR genes reflects one of two fundamental adaptive strategies in marine bacteria. Specifically, while PR-possessing bacteria utilize light energy ("solar-panel strategy"), PR-lacking bacteria exclusively possess UV-screening pigment synthesis genes to avoid UV damage and would adapt to microaerobic environment ("parasol strategy"), which also helps explain why PR-possessing bacteria have smaller genomes than those of PR-lacking bacteria. Collectively, our results highlight the different strategies of dealing with light, DNA repair, and oxygen availability that relate to the presence or absence of PR phototrophy.
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