The Effect of Nitrates, pH, and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon Concentrations on the Extracellular Polysaccharide of Three Strains of Cyanobacteria Belonging to the Family Nostocaceae

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Virginia Tech


Three strains of cyanobacteria (Anabaena PCC7120, A. variabilis and Nostoc commune), all belonging to the family Nostocaceae, were found to be capable of modulating the production and chemical composition of extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) in response to carbon and nitrogen availability as well as pH. While the carbohydrate compositions of the glycans produced by the different organisms were indicative of their recent evolutionary divergence, there were measurable differences that were dependent upon growth conditions. The EPS resulting from biofilm growth conditions was reduced in glucuronic acid levels in both Anabaena variabilis ATCC 29413 and Anabaena PCC 7120. Under planktonic conditions, the glycan from A. variabilis contained glucuronic acid when grown in nitrate-free BG-11₀ medium whereas A. PCC 7120 produced similar levels in standard BG-11 medium. This suggests that phylogeneticallyrelated cyanobacteria respond very differently to changes in their local environment. The pH of BG-11 cultures increased to 9-10 for all three strains of cyanobacteria. The increase resulted in an increase in the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon available in the medium, creating an imbalance in the carbon-nitrogen ratio, with the complete consumption of 17.65 mmol L⁻¹ nitrates raising the pH to near 10 in BG-11 medium. While increased carbon availability has been shown to induce capsulated morphologies in strains of cyanobacteria, only Nostoc commune DRH-1 exhibited this behavior, and only when grown in BG-11 medium.

Carbon and nitrogen availability as well as pH modulate the monosaccharide composition of the glycan generated by cyanobacteria investigated. The different characteristics of the glycans produced can affect the survivability of the organisms and the community structure of cyanobacterial biofilms and microbial mats found in nature. As cyanobacteria are ubiquitous organism both now and in the past, they play a pivotal role in the biological and geological processes of the Earth, controlling the availability and cycling of carbon and nitrogen both actively and passively.



cyanobacteria, carbon-nitrogen ratio, extracellular polysaccharide (EPS)