The true-branching cyanobacterium Fischerella thermalis (also known as Mastigocladus laminosus) is widely distributed in hot springs around the world. Morphologically, it has been described as early as 1837. However, its taxonomic placement remains controversial. F. thermalis belongs to the same genus as mesophilic Fischerella species but forms a monophyletic clade of thermophilic Fischerella strains and sequences from hot springs. Their recent divergence from freshwater or soil true-branching species and the ongoing process of specialization inside the thermal gradient make them an interesting evolutionary model to study. F. thermalis is one of the most complex prokaryotes. It forms a cellular network in which the main trichome and branches exchange metabolites and regulators via septal junctions. This species can adapt to a variety of environmental conditions, with its photosynthetic apparatus remaining active in a temperature range from 15 to 58 °C. Together with its nitrogen-fixing ability, this allows it to dominate in hot spring microbial mats and contribute significantly to the de novo carbon and nitrogen input. Here, we review the current knowledge on the taxonomy and distribution of F. thermalis, its morphological complexity, and its physiological adaptations to an extreme environment.
Keywords: Distribution; Fischerella; Hot springs; Mastigocladus; Multicellularity; Nitrogen fixation; Photosynthesis; Thermophile.