Marine unicellular cyanobacteria are responsible for an estimated 20-40% of chlorophyll biomass and carbon fixation in the oceans. Here we have sequenced and analysed the 2.4-megabase genome of Synechococcus sp. strain WH8102, revealing some of the ways that these organisms have adapted to their largely oligotrophic environment. WH8102 uses organic nitrogen and phosphorus sources and more sodium-dependent transporters than a model freshwater cyanobacterium. Furthermore, it seems to have adopted strategies for conserving limited iron stores by using nickel and cobalt in some enzymes, has reduced its regulatory machinery (consistent with the fact that the open ocean constitutes a far more constant and buffered environment than fresh water), and has evolved a unique type of swimming motility. The genome of WH8102 seems to have been greatly influenced by horizontal gene transfer, partially through phages. The genetic material contributed by horizontal gene transfer includes genes involved in the modification of the cell surface and in swimming motility. On the basis of its genome, WH8102 is more of a generalist than two related marine cyanobacteria.