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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 May;73(9):2939-46. Epub 2007 Mar 2.

Competition for light between toxic and nontoxic strains of the harmful cyanobacterium Microcystis.

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Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 127, 1018 WS Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The cyanobacterium Microcystis can produce microcystins, a family of toxins that are of major concern in water management. In several lakes, the average microcystin content per cell gradually declines from high levels at the onset of Microcystis blooms to low levels at the height of the bloom. Such seasonal dynamics might result from a succession of toxic to nontoxic strains. To investigate this hypothesis, we ran competition experiments with two toxic and two nontoxic Microcystis strains using light-limited chemostats. The population dynamics of these closely related strains were monitored by means of characteristic changes in light absorbance spectra and by PCR amplification of the rRNA internal transcribed spacer region in combination with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, which allowed identification and semiquantification of the competing strains. In all experiments, the toxic strains lost competition for light from nontoxic strains. As a consequence, the total microcystin concentrations in the competition experiments gradually declined. We did not find evidence for allelopathic interactions, as nontoxic strains became dominant even when toxic strains were given a major initial advantage. These findings show that, in our experiments, nontoxic strains of Microcystis were better competitors for light than toxic strains. The generality of this finding deserves further investigation with other Microcystis strains. The competitive replacement of toxic by nontoxic strains offers a plausible explanation for the gradual decrease in average toxicity per cell during the development of dense Microcystis blooms.

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