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Microcystis aeruginosa is a freshwater bloom-forming cyanobacterium capable of producing the potent hepatotoxin, microcystin. Despite increased interest in this organism, little is known about the viruses that infect it and drive nutrient mobilization and transfer of genetic material between organisms. The genomic complement of sequenced phage suggests these viruses are capable of integrating into the host genome, though this activity has not been observed in the laboratory. While analyzing RNA-sequence data obtained from Microcystis blooms in Lake Tai (Taihu, China), we observed that a series of lysogeny-associated genes were highly expressed when genes involved in lytic infection were down-regulated. This pattern was consistent, though not always statistically significant, across multiple spatial and temporally distinct samples. For example, samples from Lake Tai (2014) showed a predominance of lytic virus activity from late July through October, while genes associated with lysogeny were strongly expressed in the early months (June–July) and toward the end of bloom season (October). Analyses of whole phage genome expression shows that transcription patterns are shared across sampling locations and that genes consistently clustered by co-expression into lytic and lysogenic groups. Expression of lytic-cycle associated genes was positively correlated to total dissolved nitrogen, ammonium concentration, and salinity. Lysogeny-associated gene expression was positively correlated with pH and total dissolved phosphorous. Our results suggest that lysogeny may be prevalent in Microcystis blooms and support the hypothesis that environmental conditions drive switching between temperate and lytic life cycles during bloom proliferation.


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