ISME Journal ( 2021)
Marine algae annually sequester petagrams of carbon dioxide into polysaccharides, which are a central metabolic fuel for marine carbon cycling. Diatom microalgae produce sulfated polysaccharides containing methyl pentoses that are challenging to degrade for bacteria compared to other monomers, implicating these sugars as a potential carbon sink. Free-living bacteria occurring in phytoplankton blooms that specialise on consuming microalgal sugars, containing fucose and rhamnose remain unknown. Here, genomic and proteomic data indicate that small, coccoid, free-living Verrucomicrobiota specialise in fucose and rhamnose consumption during spring algal blooms in the North Sea. Verrucomicrobiota cell abundance was coupled with the algae bloom onset and accounted for up to 8% of the bacterioplankton. Glycoside hydrolases, sulfatases, and bacterial microcompartments, critical proteins for the consumption of fucosylated and sulfated polysaccharides, were actively expressed during consecutive spring bloom events. These specialised pathways were assigned to novel and discrete candidate species of the Akkermansiaceae and Puniceicoccaceae families, which we here describe as Candidatus Mariakkermansia forsetii and Candidatus Fucivorax forsetii. Moreover, our results suggest specialised metabolic pathways could determine the fate of complex polysaccharides consumed during algae blooms. Thus the sequestration of phytoplankton organic matter via methyl pentose sugars likely depend on the activity of specialised Verrucomicrobiota populations.