Nutrients drive transcriptional changes that maintain metabolic homeostasis but alter genome architecture in Microcystis

ISME J. 2014 Oct;8(10):2080-92. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.78. Epub 2014 May 23.


The cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa is a globally distributed bloom-forming organism that degrades freshwater systems around the world. Factors that drive its dispersion, diversification and success remain, however, poorly understood. To develop insight into cellular-level responses to nutrient drivers of eutrophication, RNA sequencing was coupled to a comprehensive metabolomics survey of M. aeruginosa sp. NIES 843 grown in various nutrient-reduced conditions. Transcriptomes were generated for cultures grown in nutrient-replete (with nitrate as the nitrogen (N) source), nitrogen-reduced (with nitrate, urea or ammonium acting as the N sources) and phosphate-reduced conditions. Extensive expression differences (up to 696 genes for urea-grown cells) relative to the control treatment were observed, demonstrating that the chemical variant of nitrogen available to cells affected transcriptional activity. Of particular note, a high number of transposase genes (up to 81) were significantly and reproducibly up-regulated relative to the control when grown on urea. Conversely, phosphorus (P) reduction resulted in a significant cessation in transcription of transposase genes, indicating that variation in nutrient chemistry may influence transcription of transposases and may impact the highly mosaic genomic architecture of M. aeruginosa. Corresponding metabolomes showed comparably few differences between treatments, suggesting broad changes to gene transcription are required to maintain metabolic homeostasis under nutrient reduction. The combined observations provide novel and extensive insight into the complex cellular interactions that take place in this important bloom-forming organism during variable nutrient conditions and highlight a potential unknown molecular mechanism that may drive Microcystis blooms and evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Homeostasis
  • Microcystis / genetics*
  • Microcystis / metabolism
  • Nitrates / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Transcriptome*


  • Nitrates
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen