Scytonemin is an ultraviolet radiation (UVR)-screening compound synthesized by some sheathed cyanobacteria exposed to high solar and sky radiation. It is primarily produced in response to UVA radiation, but certain environmental stresses can enhance synthesis. This study focuses on the effects of periodic desiccation on scytonemin synthesis in three desiccation-tolerant cyanobacterial strains, Nostoc punctiforme PCC 73102, Chroococcidiopsis CCMEE 5056 and Chroococcidiopsis CCMEE 246. Nostoc punctiforme and Chroococcidiopsis CCMEE 5056 exposed to UVA radiation produced more concentrated scytonemin screens when experiencing periodic desiccation (i.e. 1 day desiccated for every 2 days hydrated) than when continuously hydrated. A more concentrated scytonemin screen would reduce the amount of UVR damage accrued when cells are desiccated and metabolically inactive. This might allow the cyanobacteria to allocate more energy to systems other than UVR damage repair during rehydration, which would facilitate recovery. The scytonemin screen is extremely stable, remaining largely intact in the sheaths of desiccated N. punctiforme even when continuously exposed to UVA radiation for about 2 months. In contrast to the above findings, scytonemin synthesis in Chroococcidiopsis CCMEE 246, a strain that produces scytonemin constitutively under low visible light (no UVA), was partially inhibited by periodic desiccation.
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