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Cyanobacteria blooms produce teratogenic retinoic acids

Wu, Xiaoqin, Jiang, Jieqiong, Wan, Yi, Giesy, John P., Hu, Jianying
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012 v.109 no.24 pp. 9477-9482
Algae, Anabaena, Aphanizomenon, Microcystis aeruginosa, Microcystis flos-aquae, algal blooms, amphibians, aquatic ecosystems, chronic exposure, developmental stages, eutrophication, freshwater, habitats, hormones, lakes, retinoic acid, risk, teratogenicity, teratogens, wildlife, China
Deformed amphibians have been observed in eutrophic habitats, and some clues point to the retinoic acids (RAs) or RA mimics. However, RAs are generally thought of as vertebrate-specific hormones, and there was no evidence that RAs exist in cyanobacteria or algae blooms. By analyzing RAs and their analogs 4-oxo-RAs in natural cyanobacteria blooms and cultures of cyanobacteria and algae, we showed that cyanobacteria blooms could produce RAs, which were powerful animal teratogens. Intracellular RAs and 4-oxo-RAs with concentrations between 0.4 and 4.2 × 10 ² ng/L were detected in all bloom materials, and extracellular concentrations measured in water from Taihu Lake, China, were as great as 2.0 × 10 ng/L, which might pose a risk to wildlife through chronic exposure. Further examination of 39 cyanobacteria and algae species revealed that 32 species could produce RAs and 4-oxo-RAs (1.6–1.4 × 10 ³ ng/g dry weight), and the dominant cyanobacteria species in Taihu Lake, Microcystis flos-aquae and Microcystis aeruginosa , produced high amounts of RAs and 4-oxo-RAs with concentrations of 1.4 × 10 ³ and 3.7 × 10 ² ng/g dry weight, respectively. Most genera of cyanobacteria that could produce RAs and 4-oxo-RAs, such as Microcystis , Anabaena , and Aphanizomenon , often occur dominantly in blooms. Production of RAs and 4-oxo-RAs by cyanobacteria was associated with species, origin location, and growth stage. These results represent a conclusive demonstration of endogenous production of RAs in freshwater cyanobacteria blooms. The observation of teratogenic RAs in cyanobacteria is evolutionarily and ecologically significant because RAs are vertebrate-specific hormones, and cyanobacteria form extensive and highly visible blooms in many aquatic ecosystems.