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Bloom Forming Toxic Cyanobacteria Activate Special Genes to Use Unavailable Organic Phosphorus

In a recent publication in Microbial Ecology, research funded by NCCOS illuminates the role of organic phosphorus in causing blooms of the toxic Microcystis aeruginosa. Toxic cyanobacteria (once called blue-green algae) such as Microcystis have become a serious threat to human health in many freshwater ecosystems, including the Great Lakes.

Previous research has focused on the role of dissolved inorganic phosphorus, the most common form, as the cause of cyanobacterial blooms and has ignored the less abundant organic phosphorus. Funded research at the State University of New York at Stony Brook has determined that as available inorganic phosphorus is used up in the spring and early summer, the normally unavailable organic phosphorus becomes more important to cyanobacteria. To utilize the normally unavailable organic form of phosphorus, Microcystis turns on special genes allowing it to bloom under conditions unfavorable to other phytoplankton.

This study shows the need to manage all forms of the polluting nutrient phosphorus in freshwaters to control toxic Microcystis blooms.

Learn more about the project “Establishing the Sources of Phosphorus Promoting Toxic Cyanobacteria Blooms in the US Great Lakes Using Gene Expression Assays.”

Learn more about ECOHAB.

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