Genome-wide fitness assessment during diurnal growth reveals an expanded role of the cyanobacterial circadian clock protein KaiA

David G. Welkie, Benjamin E. Rubin, Yong-Gang Chang, Spencer Diamond, Scott A. Rifkin, Andy LiWang, Susan S. Golden

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25 Citations (Scopus)


The recurrent pattern of light and darkness generated by Earth’s axial rotation has profoundly influenced the evolution of organisms, selecting for both biological mechanisms that respond acutely to environmental changes and circadian clocks that program physiology in anticipation of daily variations. The necessity to integrate environmental responsiveness and circadian programming is exemplified in photosynthetic organisms such as cyanobacteria, which depend on light-driven photochemical processes. The cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 is an excellent model system for dissecting these entwined mechanisms. Its core circadian oscillator, consisting of three proteins, KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC, transmits time-of-day signals to clock-output proteins, which reciprocally regulate global transcription. Research performed under constant light facilitates analysis of intrinsic cycles separately from direct environmental responses but does not provide insight into how these regulatory systems are integrated during light–dark cycles. Thus, we sought to identify genes that are specifically necessary in a day–night environment. We screened a dense bar-coded transposon library in both continuous light and daily cycling conditions and compared the fitness consequences of loss of each nonessential gene in the genome. Although the clock itself is not essential for viability in light–dark cycles, the most detrimental mutations revealed by the screen were those that disrupt KaiA. The screen broadened our understanding of light–dark survival in photosynthetic organisms, identified unforeseen clock–protein interaction dynamics, and reinforced the role of the clock as a negative regulator of a nighttime metabolic program that is essential for S. elongatus to survive in the dark.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E7174-E7183
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Circadian clock
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Diurnal physiology
  • Photosynthesis
  • Transposon sequencing

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