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Frontiers in Microbiology

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The use of urea as a nitrogenous fertilizer has increased over the past two decades, with urea itself being readily detected at high concentrations in many lakes. Urea has been linked to cyanobacterial blooms as it is a readily assimilated nitrogen (N) - source for cyanobacteria that possess the enzyme urease. We tested the hypothesis that urea may also act as a carbon (C) source to supplemental growth requirements during the alkaline conditions created by dense cyanobacterial blooms, when concentrations of dissolved CO2 are vanishingly low. High rates of photosynthesis markedly reduce dissolved CO2 concentrations and drive up pH. This was observed in Lake Erie during the largest bloom on record (2015) over long periods (months) and short periods (days) of time, suggesting blooms experience periods of CO2-limitation on a seasonal and daily basis. We used 13C-urea to demonstrate that axenic cultures of the model toxic cyanobacterium, Microcystis aeruginosaNIES843, assimilated C at varying environmentally relevant pH conditions directly into a spectrum of metabolic pools during urea hydrolysis. Primarily, 13C from urea was assimilated into central C metabolism and amino acid biosynthesis pathways, including those important for the production of the hepatotoxin, microcystin, and incorporation into these pathways was at a higher percentage during growth at higher pH. This corresponded to increased growth rates on urea as the sole N source with increasing pH. We propose this ability to incorporate C from urea represents yet another competitive advantage for this cyanobacterium during dense algal blooms.


This article was published openly thanks to the University of Tennessee Open Publishing Support Fund.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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