RNase P RNA gene (rnpB) sequences were PCR-amplified from different members of the Prochlorococcus group. Aligned nucleotide sequences revealed a variance of up to 27% for rnpB. Comparative secondary structure analysis showed that domains P12, P18 and P19 of these novel ribozyme sequences in particular are highly divergent. Thus, these regions in RNase P RNA might serve as potential targets for deoxyoligonucleotide primers for the identification of specific genotypes of Prochlorococcus and for probing field populations. Phylogenetic trees constructed from RNase P RNA sequences were similar to, but not fully congruent with, those derived previously using sequences of the 16S rRNA gene. However, the application of rnpB sequences allowed a better resolution within clades of very closely related genotypes. As is known from 16S rRNA-based phylogenetic trees, sequences from individual strains clustered according to their physiology and the conditions at the original site of isolation, rather than their geographical origin. All sequences obtained from high-light-adapted strains formed a single coherent clade, as did the four sequences from low-light-adapted strains that were previously isolated from the North Atlantic and the subtropical North Pacific. This suggests a remarkable genetic stability of Prochlorococcus genotypes that thrive under identical ecological conditions.


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