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Molecular techniques for the early warning of toxic cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater lakes and rivers


The aim of this work was to test the efficacy of molecular techniques for detecting toxigenic cyanobacteria in environmental water samples collected from freshwater lakes, rivers and reservoirs in Portugal. Of 26 environmental samples tested, 21 were found to contain Microcystis using a genus-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Another primer pair was applied to the same DNA template to test for the presence of microcystin synthetase genes. This primer pair resulted in the formation of a PCR product in 15 of the samples containing Microcystis and one sample that did not give a positive result in the Microcystis genus-specific PCR. A restriction assay using the enzyme EcoRV was then applied to show that in most cases, the gene fragment was from toxigenic strains of Microcystis and, in one above-mentioned case, from a microcystin-producing strain of Planktothrix. All environmental samples were examined microscopically to confirm the presence of cyanobacteria species. Samples were also tested for the presence of microcystins using the ELISA plate assay. There was good agreement between the results obtained with molecular techniques and those obtained from microscopy and chemical methods. The PCR techniques applied in this paper were found to be useful, particularly when the concentration of the target organism was very low compared with other organisms. This technique can be used to detect inocula for cyanobacterial populations and therefore provide a useful tool for assessing under which conditions particular species can grow into bloom populations.

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This study was funded by a postdoctoral scholarship to M.L. Saker provided by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (SFRH/BPD/8059/2002). Planktothrix strain Cya126 was kindly provided by Elke Dittmann, Technical University of Berlin, Germany. We would like to thank anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Martin L. Saker.

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Saker, M.L., Vale, M., Kramer, D. et al. Molecular techniques for the early warning of toxic cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater lakes and rivers. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 75, 441–449 (2007).

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  • Cyanobacteria
  • Environmental monitoring
  • PCR
  • Microcystin
  • Microginin