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Distribution and Abundance of Nontoxic Mutants of Cyanobacteria in Lakes of the Alps

Veronika Ostermaier and Rainer Kurmayer
Microbial Ecology
Vol. 58, No. 2 (Aug., 2009), pp. 323-333
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40343453
Page Count: 11
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Distribution and Abundance of Nontoxic Mutants of Cyanobacteria in Lakes of the Alps
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Abstract

The filamentous cyanobacterium Planktothrix rubescens frequently occurs in deep and stratified lakes in the temperate region of the northern hemisphere and is a known producer of the hepatotoxic secondary metabolite microcystin. These cyclic heptapeptides are synthesized nonribosomally via large enzyme complexes encoded by the microcystin (mcy) synthetase gene cluster. The occurrence of cyanobacterial strains lacking microcystin, but containing the mcy gene cluster has been reported repeatedly; it was shown that this inactivation is due to mutations such as gene deletion events and the insertion of transposable elements. In the present study, 12 lakes in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland were sampled from July 2005 to October 2007, and the proportion of inactive mcy genotypes was quantified in relation to the total population of the redpigmented filamentous cyanobacterium Planktothrix by means of quantitative polymerase chain reaction. In total, four different mutations were quantified, namely two insertions affecting mcyD, one insertion affecting mcyA, and a deletion within mcyR and mcyA. The mutations occurred over a wide range of population densities (40-570,000 filaments L₊¹), and their abundance was found to be positively correlated with population density. However, on average, all nontoxic mutants were found in a low proportion only (min 0%, mean 6.5% ± 1.1 (SE), max 52% of the total population). The genotype containing the mcyHA deletion had a significantly higher proportion (min 0%, mean 3.7% ± 1, max 52%) when compared with all the genotypes containing insertions within the mcy gene cluster (min 0%, mean 2.8%±0.7, max 24%). The results demonstrate that the occurrence of inactive mcy genotypes is linearly related to the population density, and selective sweeps of nontoxic mutants did not occur during the transition from prebloom to bloom conditions.

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