Metagenomes from various environments were screened for sequences homologous to light, oxygen, voltage (LOV)-domain proteins. LOV domains are flavin binding, blue–light (BL)- sensitive photoreceptors present in 10–15% of deposited prokaryotic genomes. The LOV domain has been selected, since BL is an ever present and sometimes harmful environmental factor for microbial communities. The majority of the metagenome material originated from the Sargasso Sea Project and from open-ocean sampling. In total, more than 40 million open reading frames were investigated for LOV-domain sequences. Most sequences were identified from aquatic material, but they were also found in metagenomes from soil and extreme environments, e.g. hypersaline ponds, acidic mine drainage or wastewater treatment facilities. A total of 578 LOV domains was assigned by three criteria: (1) the highly conserved core region, (2) the presence of minimally 14 essential amino acids and (3) a minimal length of 80 amino acids. More than three quarters of these identified genes showed a sequence divergence of more than 20% from database-deposited LOV domains from known organisms, indicating the large variation of this photoreceptor motif. The broad occurrence of LOV domains in metagenomes emphasizes their important physiological role for light-induced signal transduction, stress adaptation and survival mechanisms.
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