The terrestrial cyanobacterium Nostoc commune forms macroscopic colonies in its natural habitats, and these colonies consist of both cellular filaments and massive extracellular matrixes. In this study, the biochemical features of the extracellular matrix components were investigated. Naturally growing N. commune was tolerant to desiccation, and produced massive extracellular polysaccharides that contained both neutral sugars and glucuronic acid as constituent monosaccharides. The extracellular polysaccharide contents and desiccation tolerance were compared in laboratory culture strains of Nostoc species. The laboratory culture of N. commune strain KU002 was sensitive to desiccation and produced smaller amounts of extracellular polysaccharides, unlike the field-isolated naturally growing colonies. Nostoc punctiforme strain M-15, which is genetically closed to N. commune, was able to tolerate desiccation, although the other Nostoc strains were desiccation-sensitive. A laboratory culture strain of the aquatic cyanobacterium Nostoc sphaericum produced massive extracellular polysaccharides but was sensitive to desiccation, suggesting that extracellular matrix production is not enough to make this strain tolerant to desiccation. WspA (water stress protein) and SodF (superoxide dismutase) were found to be characteristic protein components of the extracellular matrix of N. commune. Because the WspA proteins were heterogeneous, the wspA genes were highly diverse among the different genotypes of N. commune, although the sodF gene was rather conservative. The heterogeneity of the WspA proteins suggests their complex roles in the environmental adaptation mechanism in N. commune.
Keywords: anhydrobiosis; desiccation tolerance; extracellular polysaccharide (EPS); superoxide dismutase (SOD); water stress protein (WspA).