Integrating phylogeny, geographic niche partitioning and secondary metabolite synthesis in bloom-forming Planktothrix

Rainer Kurmayer, Judith F. Blom, Li Deng, Jakob Pernthaler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Toxic freshwater cyanobacteria form harmful algal blooms that can cause acute toxicity to humans and livestock. Globally distributed, bloom-forming cyanobacteria Planktothrix either retain or lose the mcy gene cluster (encoding the synthesis of the secondary metabolite hepatotoxin microcystin or MC), resulting in a variable spatial/temporal distribution of (non)toxic genotypes. Despite their importance to human well-being, such genotype diversity is not being mapped at scales relevant to nature. We aimed to reveal the factors influencing the dispersal of those genotypes by analyzing 138 strains (from Europe, Russia, North America and East Africa) for their (i) mcy gene cluster composition, (ii) phylogeny and adaptation to their habitat and (iii) ribosomally and nonribosomally synthesized oligopeptide products. Although all the strains from different species contained at least remnants of the mcy gene cluster, various phylogenetic lineages evolved and adapted to rather specific ecological niches (for example, through pigmentation and gas vesicle protein size). No evidence for an increased abundance of specific peptides in the absence of MC was found. MC and peptide distribution rather depended on phylogeny, ecophysiological adaptation and geographic distance. Together, these findings provide evidence that MC and peptide production are primarily related to speciation processes, while within a phylogenetic lineage the probability that strains differ in peptide composition increases with geographic distance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-921
Number of pages13
JournalISME Journal
StatePublished - 17 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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