Role of toxic and bioactive secondary metabolites in colonization and bloom formation by filamentous cyanobacteria Planktothrix

Rainer Kurmayer, Li Deng, Elisabeth Entfellner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Bloom-forming cyanobacteria Planktothrix agardhii and P. rubescens are regularly involved in the occurrence of cyanotoxin in lakes and reservoirs. Besides microcystins (MCs), which inhibit eukaryotic protein phosphatase 1 and 2A, several families of bioactive peptides are produced, thereby resulting in impressive secondary metabolite structural diversity. This review will focus on the current knowledge of the phylogeny, morphology, and ecophysiological adaptations of Planktothrix as well as the toxins and bioactive peptides produced. The relatively well studied ecophysiological adaptations (buoyancy, shade tolerance, nutrient storage capacity) can partly explain the invasiveness of this group of cyanobacteria that bloom within short periods (weeks to months). The more recent elucidation of the genetic basis of toxin and bioactive peptide synthesis paved the way for investigating its regulation both in the laboratory using cell cultures as well as under field conditions. The high frequency of several toxin and bioactive peptide synthesis genes observed within P. agardhii and P. rubescens, but not for other Planktothrix species (e.g. P. pseudagardhii), suggests a potential functional linkage between bioactive peptide production and the colonization potential and possible dominance in habitats. It is hypothesized that, through toxin and bioactive peptide production, Planktothrix act as a niche constructor at the ecosystem scale, possibly resulting in an even higher ability to monopolize resources, positive feedback loops, and resilience under stable environmental conditions. Thus, refocusing harmful algal bloom management by integrating ecological and phylogenetic factors acting on toxin and bioactive peptide synthesis gene distribution and concentrations could increase the predictability of the risks originating from Planktothrix blooms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-86
Number of pages18
JournalHarmful Algae
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Alternative stable states
  • Co-evolution
  • Ecosystem engineering
  • HAB formation and management
  • Metalimnion
  • Niche construction
  • Reservoirs


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