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Syst Appl Microbiol. 2004 Sep;27(5):592-602.

Distribution of microcystin-producing and non-microcystin-producing Microcystis sp. in European freshwater bodies: detection of microcystins and microcystin genes in individual colonies.

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Federal Environmental Agency, Berlin, Germany.


Microcystis is a well-known cyanobacterial genus frequently producing hepatotoxins named microcystins. Toxin production is encoded by microcystin genes (mcy). This study aims (i) to relate the mcy occurrence in individual colonies to the presence of microcystin, (ii) to assess whether morphological characteristics (morphospecies) are related to the occurrence of mcy genes, and (iii) to test whether there are geographical variations in morphospecies specificity and abundance of mcy genes. Individual colonies of nine different European countries were analysed by (1) morphological characteristics, (2) PCR to amplify a gene region within mcyA and mcyB indicative for microcystin biosynthesis, (3) matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) to detect microcystins. Almost one hundred percent of the colonies predicted to produce microcystins by PCR analysis were found to contain microcystins. A high similarity in microcystin variants in the different colonies selected from lakes across Europe was demonstrated. The different morphospecies varied in the frequency with which they contained mcy genes. Most colonies (>75%) of M. aeruginosa and M. botrys contained the mcy genes, whereas < or = 20% of the colonies identified as M. ichthyoblabe and M. viridis gave a PCR product of the mcy genes. No colonies of M. wesenbergii gave a PCR product of either mcy gene. In addition, a positive relationship was found between the size of the colony and the frequency of those containing the mcy genes. It is concluded that the analysis of morphospecies is indicative for microcystin production, although the quantitative analysis of microcystin concentrations in water remains indispensable for hazard control.

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