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J Bacteriol. 2003 May;185(9):2774-85.

Natural variation in the microcystin synthetase operon mcyABC and impact on microcystin production in Microcystis strains.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Oslo, Norway.


Toxic Microcystis strains often produce several isoforms of the cyclic hepatotoxin microcystin, and more than 65 isoforms are known. This has been attributed to relaxed substrate specificity of the adenylation domain. Our results show that in addition to this, variability is also caused by genetic variation in the microcystin synthetase genes. Genetic characterization of a region of the adenylation domain in module mcyB1 resulted in identification of two groups of genetic variants in closely related Microcystis strains. Sequence analyses suggested that the genetic variation is due to recombination events between mcyB1 and the corresponding domains in mcyC. Each variant could be correlated to a particular microcystin isoform profile, as identified by matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry. Among the Microcystis species studied, we found 11 strains containing different variants of the mcyABC gene cluster and 7 strains lacking the genes. Furthermore, there is no concordance between the phylogenies generated with mcyB1, 16S ribosomal DNA, and DNA fingerprinting. Collectively, these results suggest that recombination between imperfect repeats, gene loss, and horizontal gene transfer can explain the distribution and variation within the mcyABC operon.

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