Fischerella thermalis: a model organism to study thermophilic diazotrophy, photosynthesis and multicellularity in cyanobacteria

  • Jaime Alcorta
  • Pablo Vergara-Barros
  • Laura A. Antonaru
  • María E. Alcamán-Arias
  • Dennis J. Nürnberg
  • Beatriz DíezEmail author


The true-branching cyanobacterium Fischerella thermalis (also known as Mastigocladus laminosus) is widely distributed in hot springs around the world. Morphologically, it has been described as early as 1837. However, its taxonomic placement remains controversial. F. thermalis belongs to the same genus as mesophilic Fischerella species but forms a monophyletic clade of thermophilic Fischerella strains and sequences from hot springs. Their recent divergence from freshwater or soil true-branching species and the ongoing process of specialization inside the thermal gradient make them an interesting evolutionary model to study. F. thermalis is one of the most complex prokaryotes. It forms a cellular network in which the main trichome and branches exchange metabolites and regulators via septal junctions. This species can adapt to a variety of environmental conditions, with its photosynthetic apparatus remaining active in a temperature range from 15 to 58 °C. Together with its nitrogen-fixing ability, this allows it to dominate in hot spring microbial mats and contribute significantly to the de novo carbon and nitrogen input. Here, we review the current knowledge on the taxonomy and distribution of F. thermalis, its morphological complexity, and its physiological adaptations to an extreme environment.


Fischerella Mastigocladus Distribution Thermophile Nitrogen fixation Photosynthesis Multicellularity Hot springs 



This work was financially supported by FONDECYT regular N° 1150171 and 1190998. MEA-A was supported by Postdoctoral fellowship FONDECYT N° 3170807. JA was supported by the Doctoral fellowship from CONICYT N° 21191763; PVB by a VRI-PUC Scholarship; LAA by an Imperial College Schrödinger Scholarship; DJN by the BBSRC (Grant BB/R001383/1).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare they do not have conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2949 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular Genetics and MicrobiologyPontifical Catholic University of ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Department of Life ScienceImperial CollegeLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of OceanographyUniversity of ConcepcionConcepciónChile
  4. 4.Center for Climate and Resilience Research (CR)2SantiagoChile
  5. 5.Physics DepartmentFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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