Main content area

Cryptic diversity within the Scytonema complex: Characterization of the paralytic shellfish toxin producer Heterosyctonema crispum, and the establishment of the family Heteroscytonemataceae (Cyanobacteria/Nostocales)

Sendall, Barbara C., McGregor, Glenn B.
Harmful algae 2018 v.80 pp. 158-170
Scytonema, drinking water, freshwater, genetic traits, gonyautoxins, monitoring, monophyly, neurotoxins, new family, new genus, operon, paralytic shellfish toxins, phenotype, poisonous algae, ribosomal DNA, ribosomal RNA, risk, toxicity, water reservoirs, New Zealand, Queensland, United States
Strains of the freshwater filamentous, benthic cyanobacterium Scytonema crispum Agardh isolated from six sites in subtropical south-east Queensland were characterised using a combination of phenotypic and genetic traits. Morphologically, the strains were consistent with the description of Scytonemataceae sensu stricto, and the description of Scytonema crispum. However, phylogenetic analysis of the 16S rRNA gene, the 16S-23S rRNA operon, and the nifH gene revealed that these strains and three others from outside Australia formed a monophyletic clade distinct from Scytonema and other species in the Scytonemataceae. Collectively, this data suggests this group is sufficiently evolutionarily distinct to be placed in a new family, Heteroscytonemataceae fam. nov. Accordingly, the taxon previously known as S. crispum has been transferred to a new genus Heteroscytonema gen nov., as H. crispum. Some strains of H. crispum exhibited facultative production of paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs). The concentration of PSTs produced by individual strains varied widely, from 2.7 μg g−1 to 171.3 μg g−1, and included C toxins, decarbamoyl saxitoxin (dcSTX), gonyautoxins (GTX2, GTX3 and GTX5), saxitoxin (STX) and uncharacterised PSTs. The majority of the Australian strains produced dcSTX as the dominant saxitoxin analogue, a significant finding given that dcSTX has approximately half the relative toxicity of STX. The PST profile varied within and between Australian strains of H. crispum and in strains collected from New Zealand and the United States. The sxtA gene, one of the determinants for the production of PSTs, was present in all strains in which PSTs were detected. The discovery of PST-producing H. crispum in the headwaters of a major drinking water reservoir presents a serious risk for potential human and animal exposure to these neurotoxic compounds and further highlights the importance of monitoring benthic cyanobacteria populations for potentially toxigenic species.