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J Bacteriol. 1984 Feb;157(2):514-25.

Heterocyst differentiation in the cyanobacterium Mastigocladus laminosus.


The morphological and ultrastructural aspects of heterocyst differentiation in the branching, filamentous cyanobacterium Mastigocladus laminosus were examined with light and electron microscopy. The earliest differentiation stages involved cytoplasmic changes, including (i) rapid degradation of carboxysomes, (ii) degradation of polysaccharide granules, and (iii) accumulation of electron-dense ribosomal or protein material (or both). Intermediate differentiation stages involved synthesis of a homogeneous extra wall layer, development of necks leading to adjacent cells, and elaboration of a complex system of intracytoplasmic membranes. Late differentiation stages included further development of necks and continued elaboration of membranes. Mature heterocysts possessed a uniformly electron-dense cytoplasm that contained large numbers of closely packed membranes, some of which were arranged in lamellar stacks. Mature heterocysts lacked all of the inclusion bodies present in undifferentiated vegetative cells, but contained a number of unusual spherical inclusions of variable electron density. Cells in both narrow and wide filaments were capable of differentiating. No regular heterocyst spacing pattern was observed in the narrow filaments; the number of vegetative cells between consecutive heterocysts of any given filament varied by a factor of 10. Heterocysts developed at a variety of locations in the wide, branching filaments, although the majority of them were situated adjacent to branch points. M. laminosus displayed a marked tendency to produce sets of adjacent heterocysts or proheterocysts (or both) that were not separated from each other by vegetative cells. Groups of four or more adjacent heterocysts or proheterocysts occurred frequently in wide filaments, and in some of these filaments virtually all of the cells appeared to be capable of differentiating into heterocysts.

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