• cyanobacteria;
  • intragenomic gene heterogeneity;
  • Lyngbya;
  • multiple displacement amplification (MDA);
  • RNA polymerase gamma-subunit (rpoC1)

The SSU (16S) rRNA gene was used to investigate the phylogeny of the cyanobacterial genus Lyngbya as well as examined for its capacity to discriminate between different marine species of Lyngbya. We show that Lyngbya forms a polyphyletic genus composed of a marine lineage and a halophilic/brackish/freshwater lineage. In addition, we found morphological and genetic evidence that Lyngbya spp. often grow in association with other microorganisms, in particular smaller filamentous cyanobacteria such as Oscillatoria, and propose that these associated microorganisms have led to extensive phylogenetic confusion in identification of Lyngbya spp. At the species level, the phylogenetic diversity obtained from the comparison of 16S rRNA genes exceeded morphological diversity in Lyngbya. However, the expectation that this improved phylogeny would be useful to species and subspecies identification was eliminated by the fact that phylogenetic species did not correlate in any respect with the species obtained from current taxonomic systems. In addition, phylogenetic identification was adversely affected by the presence of multiple gene copies within individual Lyngbya colonies. Analysis of clonal Lyngbya cultures and multiple displacement amplified (MDA) single-cell genomes revealed that Lyngbya genomes contain two 16S rRNA gene copies, and that these typically are of variable sequence. Furthermore, intragenomic and interspecies 16S rRNA gene heterogeneity was approximately of the same magnitude. Hence, the intragenomic heterogeneity of the 16S rRNA gene overestimates the microdiversity of different strains and does not accurately reflect speciation within cyanobacteria, including the genus Lyngbya.