Evidence for a mutualistic relationship between the cyanobacteria Nostoc and fungi Aspergilli in different environments

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2020 Jul;104(14):6413-6426. doi: 10.1007/s00253-020-10663-3. Epub 2020 May 29.


Symbiotic partnerships are widespread in nature and in industrial applications yet there are limited examples of laboratory communities. Therefore, using common photobionts and mycobionts similar to those in natural lichens, we create an artificial lichen-like symbiosis. While Aspergillus nidulans and Aspergillus niger could not obtain nutrients from the green algae, Chlorella, and Scenedesmus, the cyanobacteria Nostoc sp. PCC 6720 was able to support fungal growth and also elevated the accumulation of total biomass. The Nostoc-Aspergillus co-cultures grew on light and CO2 in an inorganic BG11 liquid medium without any external organic carbon and fungal mycelia were observed to peripherally contact with the Nostoc cells in liquid and on solid media at lower cell densities. Overall biomass levels were reduced after implementing physical barriers to indicate that physical contact between cyanobacteria and heterotrophic microbes may promote symbiotic growth. The synthetic Nostoc-Aspergillus nidulans co-cultures also exhibited robust growth and stability when cultivated in wastewater over days to weeks in a semi-continuous manner when compared with axenic cultivation of either species. These Nostoc-Aspergillus consortia reveal species-dependent and mutually beneficial design principles that can yield stable lichen-like co-cultures and provide insights into microbial communities that can facilitate sustainability studies and broader applications in the future. KEY POINTS: • Artificial lichen-like symbiosis was built with wild-type cyanobacteria and fungi. • Physical barriers decreased biomass production from artificial lichen co-cultures. • Artificial lichen adapted to grow and survive in wastewater for 5 weeks.

Keywords: Artificial lichen co-cultures; Cell–cell interactions; Cyanobacteria; Filamentous fungi; Microbial consortia.

MeSH terms

  • Aspergillus / growth & development
  • Aspergillus / metabolism
  • Aspergillus / physiology*
  • Biomass
  • Chlorophyta / metabolism
  • Chlorophyta / physiology
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / metabolism
  • Lichens / microbiology
  • Nostoc / growth & development
  • Nostoc / metabolism
  • Nostoc / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*
  • Waste Water


  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Waste Water