• Cyanobacterial bloom;
  • gene expression;
  • mcyE ;
  • microcystin;
  • reverse transcription qPCR


Increased incidences of mixed assemblages of microcystin-producing and nonproducing cyanobacterial strains in freshwater bodies necessitate development of reliable proxies for cyanotoxin risk assessment. Detection of microcystin biosynthetic genes in water blooms of cyanobacteria is generally indicative of the presence of potentially toxic cyanobacterial strains. Although much effort has been devoted toward elucidating the microcystin biosynthesis mechanisms in many cyanobacteria genera, little is known about the impacts of co-occurring cyanobacteria on cellular growth, mcy gene expression, or mcy gene copy distribution. The present study utilized conventional microscopy, qPCR assays, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to study how competition between microcystin-producing Microcystis aeruginosa CPCC 299 and Planktothrix agardhii NIVA-CYA 126 impacts mcyE gene expression, mcyE gene copies, and microcystin concentration under controlled laboratory conditions. Furthermore, analyses of environmental water samples from the Missisquoi Bay, Quebec, enabled us to determine how the various potential toxigenic cyanobacterial biomass proxies correlated with cellular microcystin concentrations in a freshwater lake. Results from our laboratory study indicated significant downregulation of mcyE gene expression in mixed cultures of M. aeruginosa plus P. agardhii on most sampling days in agreement with depressed growth recorded in the mixed cultures, suggesting that interaction between the two species probably resulted in suppressed growth and mcyE gene expression in the mixed cultures. Furthermore, although mcyE gene copies and McyE transcripts were detected in all laboratory and field samples with measureable microcystin levels, only mcyE gene copies showed significant positive correlations (R2 > 0.7) with microcystin concentrations, while McyE transcript levels did not. These results suggest that mcyE gene copies are better indicators of potential risks from microcystins than McyE transcript levels or conventional biomass proxies, especially in water bodies comprising mixed assemblages of toxic and nontoxic cyanobacteria.