Elevated pCO2 causes a shift towards more toxic microcystin variants in nitrogen limited Microcystis aeruginosa.

J. Liu, Elmer van Oosterhout, E.J. Faassen, M. Lurling, N.R. Helmsing, D.B. Van de Waal

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Elevated pCO2 may promote phytoplankton growth, and potentially alleviate carbon limitation during dense blooms. Under nitrogen-limited conditions, elevated pCO2 may furthermore alter the phytoplankton carbon: nitrogen (C:N) balance and thereby the synthesis of secondary metabolites, such as cyanobacterial toxins. A common group of these toxins are microcystins, with variants that not only differ in C:N stoichiometry, but also in toxicity. Here, we hypothesized that elevated pCO2 will increase the cellular C:N ratios of cyanobacteria, thereby promoting the more toxic microcystin variants with higher C:N ratios. To test this hypothesis, we performed chemostat experiments under nitrogen-limited conditions, exposing three Microcystis aeruginosa strains to two pCO2 treatments: 400 and 1200 μatm. Biomass, cellular C:N ratios and total microcystin contents at steady state remained largely unaltered in all three strains. Across strains and treatments, however, cellular microcystin content decreased with increasing cellular C:N ratios, suggesting a general stoichiometric regulation. Furthermore, as predicted, microcystin variants with higher C:N ratios generally increased with elevated pCO2, while the variant with a low C:N ratio decreased. Thus, elevated pCO2 under nitrogen-limited conditions may shift the cellular microcystin composition towards the more toxic variants. Such CO2 driven changes may have consequences for the toxicity of Microcystis blooms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfiv159
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number2
Early online dateFeb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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